Kevin Berry meets the man who has taken Yarm school's team to the top of the rowing league.
In just three years Richard Harandon has taken Yarm School's rowing team from nowhere to the top of the national school rowing league. As head of modern languages, he wasn't the most obvious choice to start up a rowing club, but his university experience in the sport has stood him in good stead.
When he was initially asked to introduce a rowing programme to the Stockton school, there were no boats and no specialised coaches, but the head said at the time : "I don't see that as an insurmountable problem!" Yarm is an independent grammar school set in grounds bordering a placid stretch of the River Tees.
When rowing first started, the young crews were taken to a club at Stockton to share equipment, but that was only seen as a temporary measure. Harandon scoured the ads in rowing magazines and bought second hand boats and oars so the school could offer rowing as a serious option.
There has to be a "can do" attitude from the very beginning, says Harandon. When he announced to the school that rowing was starting, he did not want to hide the fact that it would take them at least a year to learn technique and two years to become competitive. "You have to catch them young and we start them at 11," he says. "We ow have a fifth of the school who are rowing or sculling. We'll soon be completely co-ed . Our present head told me there will be six new girls in the fourth form next term. I said - good, that's a cox and four and a reserve. He said, 'you sad man!' But he's very supportive."
His coaching relies on tips picked up from rowing gurus and his own observation of other crews. But he is not alone in his quest to produce a winning rowing outfit. Two other teachers and three parents have since qualified as coaches.
A school boathouse is planned for the near future. Parents help with fundraising and the school contributes, but much of the finance is coming from an anonymous local benefactor who has been impressed with Harandon's enthusiasm and detailed organisation.
Harandon is insistent that the infrastructure has to be right at this level of rowing. Lessons take place after school and on Saturday mornings.
If there are good rowers in a year group, it is an option for games sessions, and it will soon be a timetabled throughout the school.
Yarm School's place at the top of the rowing league is not a true reflection, says a modest Harandon. The autumn floods have hampered some other schoolsybroo training. A true reflection would be a place in the top ten, which is still some achievement.