Sports day clouds were silver-lined for our heroes

17th July 2009 at 01:00
English teacher Julie Greenhough, is shocked to find she was `volunteered' to be commentator for the school sports day

"Let the games begin!" I announced. It was the annual sports day. In previous years I had been given nothing more onerous than helping at the welly boot throwing competition. (There is actually an art to throwing a pink, plastic floral wellington boot in a straight line.) So it was a bit of a shock to find I had been "volunteered" by Mr K to do the commentating for the day.

Such an exalted job had been the domain of the legendary Mr S for nigh on 30 years. How could I replace him and his encyclopaedic knowledge of every event and record? I did not even own a panama hat, which he always wore. I felt both honoured and petrified. Yet it is sports day, and on such a day everyone in the whole school participates fully.

The morning saw the athletics championships taking place at a local track. The commentary box was an elevated green hut. I eyed the electronic equipment cautiously without a clue how to work it. Then I found a clever- looking pupil who easily flicked switches, twiddled buttons and made the whole thing seem simple. All I had to do now was say something into the microphone. But like throwing a welly boot, it's not as easy as it sounds.

Naturally, as a teacher of English I can talk for Britain, but somehow I was lost for words. Then I saw Nurse resplendent in her bright pink sports attire. "Hello, Nursie, can you hear me?" Her cheery wave and thumbs-up sign signalled that she could. I was away.

I perfected the hushed yet firm tone required for "Quiet at the start, please." I gasped when a new record needed announcing. I became bolder and made fashion comments about the sartorially elegant male staff: Mr N's white hat, Mr B still in a waistcoat but with the sleeves rolled up as a nod to casual, and Mr A carrying his briefcase.

I tried not to sound overly panicked when asking people not to walk in front of the javelin. Well prepared as Nurse was, I didn't think that even she would welcome having to treat a pupil pierced by a metal pole.

Becoming bolder, I made astute comments, ably assisted by Mr Thomas, who checked all the results. Previous years had seen one pupil allegedly break the Olympic long-jump record until it was discovered that someone, in an attempt to tidy up the measuring tape, had cut off the first three metres.

The pupils excelled in their sportsmanship. Slow runners were cheered on, those coming last in the mile held hands to cross the finish line together. Mr McBratney even became an honorary girl by running the second leg of the lady teachers' relay team to show true gender equality.

After lunch we moved to our sports fields for the fun games. The sunlight, when it broke through the clouds, shone on the pale luminosity of legs not used to wearing shorts. I looked for the marquee. Every year, there had been a marquee. Now I could not even see a cadet force tent. Instead, there was a lone metal table and chair under a tree. It was my first year as commentator so obviously I needed to prove I was worthy.

Except it began to rain. Electrical equipment . cables and plugs . metal furniture. You don't need to be good at science to work out the health and safety implications. They put black plastic bin bags over everything and told me not to worry. I worried.

Then the inimitable Mr F loomed into view - all cool, cream suit and dark wrap-around shades. A brooding presence, he controlled the tug-of-war without even speaking. A hand to the left or the right signalled the victor.

As the crowd surged forward, I couldn't see a thing and was reduced to standing on the chair, head in the branches, microphone in hand.

Then silence and palpable tension for the event of the afternoon: the lady teachers' tug-of-war team! As captain, I felt the music from Rocky should have been playing as we assumed our positions near the rope. Behind the ladylike demeanour lurked tiger-like determination.

Ms D started up the chant of "We don't lose". Actually, four years ago we did lose. To Year 7. The shame still hurts.

But this time we had a secret weapon: a team motivator in the form of Nurse. She roared: "Heave! Heave!" And we heaved. We also snarled, grunted and strained, and the hideous photos on pupils' mobile phones now bear testimony to this. But victory was ours.

At the end of the afternoon, the menacing clouds turned grey. The pupils scurried away, knees muddied, cheeks wind-burnt, muscles aching, yet hearts full of pride. That morning, I had seen a poster with the strapline: "Heroes aren't born, they are made." Everyone was a hero that day.

Then the clouds split open. The rain pours down. They think it's all over. It is now.

Julie Greenhough, English teacher at an independent school in London.

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