Last Sunday would have seen the annual whole school sports day, following the leavers’ divisions and chapel service. Unfortunately it was not to be. So what have we all missed.
The leavers’ chapel service is probably the most entertaining chapel service you will ever go to. Listening to the year 13s tell all their funny stories; describing their journey growing up through the school, sharing the memories and events which had led for many of their years at the school to have been filled with laughter. Usually, the speeches are given by two friends who have shared lots of memories together, and not only are the two pupils sharing their memories in hysterics, but so is the whole chapel.
Those who view sports day as a social event aim to have an enjoyable, relaxed picnic with their house, friends, and family and join the promenade around the fields discussing the fashion pitfalls and triumphs of other promenaders, looking inside the tents and slurping their way through buckets of ice cream. Oh, and every now and then looking over to the track to see who has just won an event.
The other point of view is from those who view sports day as a competitive event, repping their house shirts and vests ready to compete as athletes, hoping for a medal and a handshake from the headmaster. After the mental preparation while walking down to the athletics track, a quick food fix at the house picnic is required to ensure they are all energised for their event and an opportunity to hear some encouragement from others in the house, athletes and socialites alike.
Walking down to the fields from house after getting changed, with the sun hitting your skin, looking forward to the day ahead, being filled with excitement, is a memory that has stuck with me and, to my mind, is the essence of sports day.
In contrast, if having a picnic with your family, approaching the athletic track is like entering a Where’s Wally book. You’re on the phone to your parents (if you are fortunate to get service) trying to find where on the field they have parked and decided to pitch camp. Their confusing description sends you walking around the field continuously, trying desperately to spot Dad’s funky shirt and Mum’s ‘I hope she’s not wearing that again’ hat. After you’ve taken note of every car and finally managed to find theirs, you’re praying that they will have found somewhere sensible to picnic, not in the long jump sand pit like last year or behind the Collingwood marquee where the heady bouquet of Lynx, steak and testosterone will overwhelm the delicately scented Gravlax sandwiches.
If having a picnic at your house marquee this part of sports day is clearly less of a struggle, as without a doubt there will be your house’s banners plastered all over the place.
As time goes on, the day’s events begin to take place, with the main track events, the ones which everyone pays attention to, beginning to start. Somewhere distant, in the middle of the field or around the outskirts, the less glamorous but no less worthy field events take place. Some spectators notice but most applause is directed towards the track athletes.
Following the completion of all the events is the award ceremony. This consists of the awarding of the medals, as well as the results of the winners of sports day. Most years Hood wins the girls’ competition and Collingwood the boys’ but every year everybody (except those in Hood and Cwood) hopes that there will be an upset and outsiders will be triumphant. It’s never worth betting on.
The winners amongst the junior houses, Chichester, McArthur, Francis and Shackelton are, refreshingly, less predictable.
Far less predictable than the outcome of the house competitions is the predictably unpredictable British summer weather which always keeps us on our toes. Even the socialites occasionally have to make a sprint for a tent when a sudden rainy squall breaks the sunshine or shotputters have to become high jumpers to bring a marquee suddenly lifted skywards by a gust of wind back to ground.
Sports day as a whole, including the leavers’ divisions and chapel service, is most probably the best Sunday you have to be in school for and is why so many ex-RHS pupils decide to make an appearance and take the opportunity to catch-up with old friends.
This year, once again, the pandemic gave us Spoilsports Day rather than the best day in the school calendar. Fortunately, we have happy memories of Sports days’ past, and next year, surely, we can live it for real again.