The bowling greens of Torbay humming with youngsters

As its initiative for 2008, Torbay Sports Council decided to form the world’s first Schools’ Bowls League.

Designed to suit those who needed an alternative to physical sports, the league was awarded funding, and by 2009 it was ready to go!

After all four teams had attended Ron Mitchell’s pre-season induction, where they had learned the etiquette of the sport, the long-awaited competition began.

On the first day, Torquay Community College beat Paignton C&SC 7-3, while Cuthbert Mayne beat Westlands by the same score.

As the season wore on, the matches attracted large numbers of spectators, and, each week, the skills of the 11-13-year-old students noticeably improved.

After eight weeks, the Finals Day saw the unbeaten Torquay Community College rink beat Westlands, at Victoria Bowling Club, to become the first league champions.

The bowls clubs had provided coaching, encouragement, and even refreshments.

The schools had got their teams to matches, on time, without a single hitch, and the youngsters had behaved impeccably in an environment which was so new to them.

During the following winter, we had so much interest from the schools that the original four rinks had risen to twelve! Both the Girls’ and the Boys’ Grammar Schools had asked to join the league, and Tower House School was added later.

Paignton/Torbay, Upton, Torquay, Victoria, Paignton and King’s bowling clubs had all offered their greens for the new season, and had even offered a free year’s membership for any parent and child who wanted to take up the sport together.

The 2010 season was a phenomenal success, and greens all around the Bay were humming with young people who couldn’t get enough of this new sport.

We divided the twelve rinks into two divisions to make the organization easier, and from the first day, competition was fierce.

Matches took place on Tuesdays between 4.15 and 5.15, and, of course, flat bottomed shoes were mandatory. Clubs received £20 each time their greens were used……BUT almost none of them ever claimed the money!

Early on in the new season, the Torquay Boys’ Grammar School played its first match against the Girls’ Grammar, and over a hundred spectators saw the boys win a close contest by 6-4.

As always, I was there with Sports Council colleagues, and we sat spell-bound.

For people who had spent a lifetime promoting sport, the sight of so many young people behaving perfectly, and being coached and supported by elderly members, was just about the pinnacle of satisfaction.

I will never forget the sight of a wizened old lady taking the hand of a thirteen-year-old girl, and showing her how to grip a bowling ball. The girl was wide-eyed in admiration, and the old lady so pleased to be useful. Like a Nokomis, and a Minnehaha, brought together in the wigwam of sport. Unforgettable!

The Finals Day was held on July 6, at Queen’s Park, and the champions were not yet decided.

Reigning champions, Torquay Community College, lost their last match to Torquay Boys’ Grammar School, who then had to beat Tower House to win the A Division.

The Grammar School won a tight game by 8-6, and we had new champions!

After six play-offs, we ended the season with a final merit table.

Torbay’s international bowlers, Natalie Melmore and Sam Tolchard, were soon to leave for the Commonwealth Games but still found time to call in and present the prizes.

The finals were filmed by Active Devon who supported us throughout.

Perhaps our proudest outcome, at the end of the 2010 season, came when the clubs reported that twenty-six of the young players had taken up their membership offer, with a parent, meaning that Torbay had fifty-two new bowlers that winter.

Despite its success, Torbay Sports Council had other work to do rather than organize bowls leagues, so, for 2011, we produced a full fixture list, and then handed the management over to the local bowls community.

For one reason or another, the whole concept soon collapsed, and, by 2012, the Schools Bowls Leagues became just a memory.

In recent years, we have seen the Ellacombe and Upton greens close, and memberships decline. Can the Schools Bowls League idea be re-born?

It has so much to recommend it

It is just so funding friendly, so photogenic, and why shouldn’t youngsters be given the chance to opt for less physical sports anyway?

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