Sporting chances curtailed

Charlie Hawke was on the way to completing his domination of school swimming events in his final year at St Francis Xavier’s, Hamilton. But he was left stranded in the fast lane when all school sporting pathways came to a shuddering halt as a result of COVID-19.

In an astounding effort in 2019, Charlie competed in 11 events at the NSW Combined Catholic College Championships, collecting gold in the 100m, 200m and 400m freestyle and 50m butterfly, silver in the 200m IM and 100m ‘fly and bronze in the 100m backstroke. He set NSWCCC records for the 200m and 400m freestyle.

He followed this up with another commanding performance at the NSW All Schools where he won the 100m free, 200m free, 400m IM and 200m ’fly, and placed second in the 50m ‘fly and 200 IM. He was predictably rewarded with selection in the NSW team and appointed one of the leaders.

At the School Sport Australia Championships in Melbourne, Charlie finished second in the 50m ‘fly, 100m free, 200m free, 200m IM, 200 ‘fly and 400 IM, and third in the 100m ‘fly and 400m free.

And so to this year and Charlie was at it again at our SSSA diocesan swimming when he broke records in the 17+ 50m butterfly and 200 IM. He swam a time of 26.09sec in the ‘fly, and took exactly 1sec off the 200 IM record with a time of 2:18:21.

But in March, School Sport Australia cancelled all its events for 2020, and then the Department of Education followed suit and called a halt to sport for the rest of Term 1, and Term 2. The disappointment flowed down to the local level. Students who had secured a diocesan spot to attend Polding or NSWCCC events were devastated, as were those students whose sports were yet to have their school, regional and diocesan trial.

For some, it meant missing their first opportunity to represent the Diocese. For others, their final chance to put on the emerald green top was gone. Parents and children understood that everyone was putting health and safety as a priority, but they couldn’t mask their dismay. Many hoped the events would be rescheduled, but as pools, tracks, courts and stadiums closed, it became evident it would not be possible to catch up on the backlog of the pathway.

Participation in physical activity is critical to a child’s health, development and psychosocial wellbeing. With the increasing sedentary behaviour associated with screen-based activities, sport and physical activity at any level becomes more important. Schools did a great job in adapting their weekly programs to include more non-contact sports.

Good health influences the way in which children feel and go about their daily lives, so including an hour of physical activity is important. We know only one-quarter of students did this before COVID. Therefore, during COVID, teachers knew they had to provide links to physical activity for those at home.

Elliott Plank is the Sport Coordinator at All Saints’ College, Maitland, and says many senior students found their stress levels were much higher because they no longer had the physical outlet, especially with increased pressure during the HSC and preliminary courses. Other elite athletes and students vying for representative teams and positions have struggled with the cancelation of trials.

Mr Plank says a lot of rugby league players are disappointed their opportunity to trial for Australian Schoolboys and play in the GIO Schoolboys Cup have been put on hold, or in Year 12’s case, cancelled. A couple of students even left school once the opportunity to aim for the Australian Schoolboy team was no longer a reality.

Steve Burns, Sport Coordinator at San Clemente, Mayfield, has witnessed many students struggle to find a release away from the pressures and stresses of our current health situation.

“The past five months have really highlighted to me just how important sporting opportunities are at a school level, for not just the physical health of our students, but also their emotional wellbeing and mental health,” Mr Burns says.

“I have had a consistent stream of students asking which sporting events are still on, and when sporting events that have been postponed will be back up and running. In general, our students are very proud to represent our school community at our diocesan events and I know their participation in these events will be met with overwhelming excitement once they are back up and running as normal.”

Charlie Hawke received a Blue for swimming in 2019. “A letter from Swimming Australia eased the disappointment of missing this year’s championships,” says Charlie. Swimming Australia recognised that “through Charlie’s performances in swimming in the past year, he would in every likelihood have achieved qualifying standards to represent Australia at the now cancelled 2020 Junior Pan Pacific Championships in Hawaii”.

“I have also has verbally accepted a full swimming scholarship to the University of Alabama, in the US,” says Charlie.

Leroy Reid is a talented athlete, also from St Francis Xavier’s College, Hamilton. He received a Bar award in 2019, awarded to students who already have a Blue and have continued to excel in their sport. Leroy has represented our Diocese in athletics from 2015-2019. He holds the diocesan record in the 400m, and at the NSWCCC championships last year he won gold in the 200m and 400m, silver in the 100m, and was named 17 years age champion.

At last year’s NSW All Schools, Leroy ran a personal best in the 200m to win a gold medal. He followed that with a silver in the 100m and fifth in the long jump. As a result, he was selected to represent NSW at the Australian All Schools Championships. He continued his outstanding form, securing silver medals in the 200m and 4x100m relay, and a personal best in the 100m.

With no awards this year, Leroy is thankful he achieved a Blue and a Bar before COVID struck. He recently started back at the NSW Target Talent Program at Sydney Olympic Park. Selectors were also considering Leroy for the U20s training squad for the World Junior Athletics Championships and he is hopeful this event will be moved to 2021.

Michael Walker from St Pius X, Adamstown received a Blue in 2019 for basketball. He was a significant player in the 2019 NSWCCC team and was subsequently chosen in the NSW All Schools team. He had to pull out of All Schools due to an injury but has since recovered and 2020 was going to be his year. Michael had been selected in the Australian U16 team to travel to Bulgaria, and the NSW Country U18 team to compete in the national championships in Ballarat, but again, COVID halted all competition and travel.

Although disappointing, Michael says it is not all bad for him as he had sustained an injury on the Country tour in mid-January and for the past months has been able to concentrate on rehab without any pressure to be ready for a tournament. He is now back training and playing in local competitions and will be ready for 2021 when he is hoping to trial for the NSW U20 team.

Hopefully we will have some sporting events go ahead in Term 4 and our students will continue to train and set goals for 2021. Most importantly, I hope all students are keeping active with a positive mindset during these times.

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