Troon takes cap for raising talent
For a small town, Troon, in Ayrshire, has been making some big waves. Its basketball club has, for the first time in the history of the Scottish game, four teams that have won through to the finals of the four main cup competitions: cadet, junior, under-21 and senior.
In volleyball, Troon won last year's women's Scottish League title. And the town has always had a strong rugby tradition: Gordon Brown, the former Scottish forward who died last week, aged 53, was born in Troon and educated at Marr College.
The school has played an extraordinary role in producing Scotland's future sporting talent. Its rugby teams - winners of the Scottish Schools' Cup in 1992 and 1994 - have traditionally been strong, as have its hockey teams, with Marr winning the Scottish Schoolgirls' Cup last year.
But it is indoors that the school in recent years has most notably fostered talent and forged strong club links. In basketball, Marr won the Senior Open Boys' Cup and the Under-15 Cup at the Royal Bank Scottish Schools' finals at Meadowbank earlier this month.
Tom Campbell, Marr's principal teacher of business studies and Troon's coach, has overseen the progress made by the school and club over the 14 years he has taught at the school.
"Numbers-wise, basketball has not gone up significantly and this is still very much a rugby school," he says. "But what we have at the school and the club are kids and teacherscoaches who put a lot of effort and a lot of time into the sport. We have sessions five lunchtimes a week and I'm at the school three nights a week coaching.
"Troon is a provincial club which is competing against teams from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen and obviously does not have the same resources to call upon, but we concentrate on quality and not quantity."
In volleyball, Marr College has been one of the leading lights in the Scottish junior game - there is no national inter-school competition - and the school has a strong link with the town's national league club.
Jess Reid, acting principal of physical education, has taught at the school for 10 years and has seen players develop to international standard.
"I think the dedication and calibre of the staff is the key to what has happened. In the PE staff, John Sharkey has done a lot for the rugby and Babs Dawson with the hockey.
"The ethos in the school is excellence in education and excellence in sport," she points out.
"You have to remember that Troon is a small town and the school roll has fallen from 1,400 to around 1,200, but there are parents from outwith the area who want to send their children here. I know of one boy who comes in from West Kilbride.
"There are a lot of kids who leave here and go to college or university. I believe there is a strong relation between being good at sport and being good academically.
"Sport gives a lt of children confidence: I've seen it with my own children at the school. I've always been an advocate of extra-curricular sport, even at my previous school.
"It's not just volleyball I'm involved in. I also work with the first-year hockey."
As in basketball, the school's close link with the local volleyball club has given young players the opportunity to take their game on to another level.
Vince Krawczyk, coach to Troon's Scottish women's volleyball champions last year, has used Marr as the main feeder school to his club. In addition to going into the school on a weekly basis to coach, he takes Marr pupils to annual tournaments in London and Belgium, which help them to progress as players.
Mr Krawczyk set up the Troon club five years ago and since then has taken the women's team to three of the past four Scottish Cup finals as well as coaching the runners-up in the Scottish League this year.
Mr Krawczyk coached the MCA Cardinals in Glasgow before deciding that Troon was the ideal place to raise a team. He took the team right through from Division Four to the top flight before winning the title.
"When I was coaching at MCA, there were three Marr College girls - Jenny and Nicky Ellis and Emma Sik - whom I took to Glasgow to play," he recalls. "I knew there were a lot of talented players coming through at Marr College and also some other local girls I could call upon; it was enough to start a team. I managed to persuade a couple of players to come out of retirement and that group formed the core of my team, but the mass of the players over the last few years has come from Marr College."
Mr Krawczyk also uses other schools in the area, in particular Stewarton Academy. His club recruits players from as young as third year upwards, but he is happy for them to play other sports during their school years to get an all-round grounding.
Diane Hildebrand, who captained the girls' hockey team to the Scottish Cup last year, has given up hockey to concentrate on volleyball. She is now a student in Edinburgh, but as an important member of the Troon squad she travels for the training sessions and games as often as possible.
Unlike volleyball, basketball and rugby, there is no national league hockey club in Troon, so any players who want to further their game have to travel to Irvine or Ayr.
Mr Krawczyk believes there are two main reasons why Marr College has been so successful at producing sports talent, particularly in basketball, volleyball, rugby and hockey. "One is undoubtedly that there are strong school-club links, particularly for volleyball and basketball; but there is also a high standard of coaching at the school in a number of sports," he says. "That was one of the reasons I used the school, as it had a good reputation for coaches.
"But it's a two-way process. While the school can offer the club young players, the club can offer players national league experience and the chance to travel to junior tournaments in England and abroad."