I still recall the pride my father, Jack, had that the 100 yard sprint record he set at Maitland Marist Brothers High School’s Athletic Carnival in 1937 stood for over 20 years. A favourite photo of his was Maitland Marist’s First XIII Rugby League team of that year, of which he and his older brother Mick were members, and the team won the Newcastle and Coalfields Secondary Schools Premiership.
My own performances on the athletic field were not of his standard but I was a member of the Hamilton Marist Undefeated 6 stone7 pound Premiership Winning Rugby League Team in 1965. The fact I played fullback and rarely touched the ball nor completed many tackles said more about the brilliance of the players in front of me than it did of my ability.
Last Friday I witnessed a whole new generation of athletes taking pride in their sporting abilities as they represented not just their schools but also their diocese at the Polding Athletic Carnival held at the Hunter Sports Centre at Glendale.
It was a special athletic carnival in that it was the 30th time dioceses of NSW had come together to enable their students to demonstrate their athletic skills in such an event.
The first Inter-diocesan Primary School Athletic carnival was held in Canberra in 1987, a time when students in Catholic schools in NSW could not participate at a state or national level against students from other school systems. The Canberra carnival and an earlier that year Swimming Carnival at Lambton Olympic Pool and Cross Country event in Wollongong were attempts to enable our students to engage in some form of representative sport experience.
Fortunately, 21 years ago, the pathways to state and national representation were opened up to all schools in NSW and the Polding carnival enables students from the dioceses of Broken Bay, Maitland-Newcastle, Lismore, Armidale, Bathurst and Wilcannia-Forbes to represent not only their schools and dioceses but also the far flung communities from which many of them come.
On Friday there were athletes present who had come from Deniliquin, Bourke, Tweed Heads and Walgett, having travelled with parents and grandparents over vast territory to be at Glendale.
One student with whom I spoke came from Deniliquin in the Wilcannia-Forbes diocese, a round trip of 1700 kilometres whilst a student from Bourke in the same diocese travelled almost 1500 kilometres. They were so excited to be participating and competing against students from more than half of NSW.
A student from Parkes, again in the Wilcannia-Forbes diocese, was particularly noticeable in the teams’ march past that preceded the carnival’s opening. She was the only student in a wheelchair. Later, whilst speaking to her and her father, I noticed she had another wheelchair with her, this one a sleek racing chair and she was to compete in the disability section of the carnival. She, too, was excited to be participating in this carnival and relishing the possibility to represent the Polding region in the NSW PSSA Athletics Carnival next term. Next stop the Paralympics.
There were approximately 500 students participating and the number of parents and grandparents there to support the athletes would have reached close to 2000. It was a great atmosphere.
Special thanks go to Miss Bernadette Duggan, CSO Education Officer (Sport and PD/H/PE), for the organisation of the carnival, as she does every year, and to the many principals, teachers, school and CSO staff and students from our Secondary schools who assist her in this significant event. The joy that their work produces in these young athletes, whether they win or come last, is very evident in the students’ faces and those of their parents.
Well done to all involved.