1956: Finding an edge and School Sport.

I was now in the second year (Year 8) at the grammar school. This meant that I could “try out” for the school rugby team at the Under 13 age group. After the trials, I was picked for the team and we started to train straight away as we had to start playing against other schools at the end of September.

That season our Under 13 team had a good run of results for a group of boys who had never played competitive inter-school rugby before – but Wakefield Grammar took us to the cleaners – twice! We were out of our depth. They had the “game experience” as they had played rugby in their junior school and seemed to really know what they were doing. They scored lots of points against us! Never to be forgotten!

Below is the School Magazine end of season report from our coach. In the photo I am stood in front of the coach.

“The under 13 Rugby XV had a fairly successful season this year. They started the season by defeating Thorne G.S. by 9pts to 3 and ended with an excellent win against Barnsley G.S. by 39pts. to nil. Throughout the season the team has shown great keenness, zest and enthusiasm and they have at all times tried to play good rugby. The two biggest defeats against Wakefield earned for the team well-merited praise for their courage and resolution in the face of heavy odds. They also lost narrowly to Rothwell G.S. by 8pts. to 6. Towards the end of the season the forwards improved in technique with the result that the three-quarters had more of the ball and thus the team began to score more points. Finally, mention must be made of the fearless tackling and the determined running of the three-quarters throughout the season. Special praise must be given to the captain for the way he has led the team.”

After those Saturday morning games against Wakefield I was not happy. My performances could have been so much better. I felt that I was neither big enough nor strong enough to compete on equal physical terms. Luckily my brother had installed his weight-training equipment in the spare bedroom at home. It was like a gym. There were the weights themselves, “a squat and bench press machine”, a barbell, dumbbells, iron boots, a wrist roller and a headstrap. Strange equipment to me and no wonder the postman struggled! My mother was very understanding but was so worried about the bedroom floor and the lounge ceiling! If my brother was using the weights to get stronger, maybe I could as well – but where would a twelve year old start? A copy of Muscle Power magazine pointed me in the right direction. I think it had a photo of Steve Reeves (Mr Universe 1950) on the front cover.

So there I was, a sort of novice bodybuilder. Nothing much seemed to happen for a long time. Muscle Power suggested noticeable improvements would take about 3 months. All I seemed to get were stiff muscles in my arms and legs – actually just about every large muscle group was affected. Nevertheless, I persisted and gradually I did notice changes – especially in my increased strength. Good! After all, that was one of my objectives. So that I had a record of what I had done, I always documented my sessions in terms of date, exercise, sets, repetitions and weights. Looking back, that was good practice. The rugby playing season for the School Year, however, had finished, but I persevered with the weights.

By chance I had stumbled onto weight-training as a means to try to improve my performance at sport. Little did I know that as time went on, just about all rugby players would use weights regularly in their preparation for playing the game.

Our coach was also our Science teacher. 50 years later he and I would re-establish contact when he wrote many articles for the grammar school website with which I am involved. An example of such an article, on school sport, is shown below.

“I may have mentioned this before, but I cannot stress the point enough – that of the role of sport within the school, as it was an outlet for the passive nature of learning in the classroom. The youngsters enjoyed getting into the gym and on to the field to release pent-up energy. They felt (that is, the majority), that they could achieve and enjoy the games. They developed their fitness. What lethargy that did exist was perhaps due to their own leisurely life style, getting up in the morning to get the bus for school and perhaps the odd late night. Games did build up the competitive spirit, and that is no bad thing, but also cooperative activity within an inbuilt sense of leadership and desire to become more skilful. Obviously not every one wanted to be expert, but the PE Staff sought hard to provide the opportunities to improve skills and innate talent. Girls as well as the boys really worked hard at improvements. The 1st XI Girls Hockey was always formidable, what I saw of it. Everyone knew they had to achieve improvements through practice and active participation. The system of House matches and Saturday team games were mightily effective in producing a sense of well-being within the school. The Headmaster was right when he said to me one day, Mens sana in corpore sano.”

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