Schools athletics is a cause for concern as Committee work hard to keep the sport alive

Graham Smith.
Graham Smith.

Athletics in Sunderland schools is at an all-time low.

Not one athlete has been selected for the county team for the English Schools’ Track and Field Championships at Birmingham next month.

Indeed, you have to go back to 2014 for when the last athlete qualified to compete at the national championships.

A total of 32 athletes have achieved the tough English Schools’ qualifying championships to make the county team for Birmingham

Sunderland, who compete under the Wearside banner, is by far the biggest area.

West Wearside, that combines Houghton and Washington has a total of five athletes selected, while Easington has two.

Clearly, the signs are there for all to see that all is not well in schools’ athletics in the city.

The few who make up the Wearside Schools’ athletics committee are working hard to keep the sport alive. But they are seeing little rewards for their efforts.

With little athletics activity in most of the schools, they are facing an uphill task.

This situation has had a knock-on effect when it comes to club athletics.

This is shown in Sunderland Harriers participation levels and talent spotting, proving increasingly difficult to fulfil.

The Harriers, who were founded in 1897, has a proud record on the endurance side of the sport, winning many individual and national team championships on the track, road and cross country from the 1970s.

But the feed into the sport through the schools is certainly not what it used to be and the club’s results confirm this.

Schools’ athletics has had many hurdles to jump over during the years, starting with the decline of the competition element in schools through the 1960s and into the 70s. Then in the eighties it was the selling off of school playing fields

And in the 90s it was the loss of school hours devoted to sport in the timetable.

Now, in a positive step, athletics forms part of the sport timetable during the summer months. But how many schools in Sunderland adopt this?

Even if though there is no one from Wearside selected for the English Schools’ Championships, we can look back with fond memories at the ones that made the Schools’ Olympics and won a coveted title when Sunderland Schools athletics was more vibrant.

All the athletes below were Sunderland Harriers.

It started in the middle distance events where the Harriers’ were particularly strong in the 1970s and into the 2000s.

Pennywell School’s Graham Smith won the inter boys’ 3,000m (8.36.4) to become the first Sunderland athlete to win a national schools’ title in 1977.

St Aidan’s Kelvin Newton captured the same title in 1979 (8.38.4) at the Harvey Hadden Stadium, Nottingham.

Another Pennywell schoolboy, Stuart Mathieson, carried on the middle distance success in the junior boys’ 1,500m at Thurrock in 1984, winning in 4.09.1.

St Anthony’s Adele Forester was a double schools’ champion winning the inters long jump in 1991 (5.77m) and 1992 (5.81m).

She also won the Home Countries International with a leap of 5.98m.

Farringdon’s Andrew Rutland took the senior boys’ discus in 1995 with a throw of 46.22m.

St Aidan’s Malcolm Hassan, although not a winner, had a significant performance.

He was runner-up in the 1997 junior boys’ 1500m (4.10.40), to eventual four times Olympic champion Mo Farah (4.06.41).

He then went on to win the Home Countries international inters race 1500m in1999 (3.57.47).