1958: The backwards glide of Parry O’Brien.

Back in 1956, a new and uniquely qualified Sports Teacher came to work at the grammar school. He was at the school for eight years and he certainly made his mark. His arrival more or less coincided with the opening of the New Gymnasium. This was to be in addition to the Assembly Hall gym. The new gym had showers! The previous facility for changing into and out of P.E. kit was a black wooden shed on the playground. It did not have any facilities. So muddy boys went home muddy. Clearly the New Gym was very well received.

The new P.E. teacher was a former Head Boy of the school. The Rugby 1st team that he played for in the 1944-45 season were unbeaten (photo below). He was the school record holder for the number of tries scored in one season. He was also the 1945 100 yards sprint champion for the North of England Public Schools and a professional Rugby League player. He spoke, you listened.

School 1st XV 1944-45 (unbeaten)
P.E. teacher – middle row, third from the right.

Lots of running was brought into his senior teams’ training sessions, and their fitness for matches improved markedly. In the Rugby 7-a-side season, players trained twice per day, except Friday, which was a rest day. In the 1957-58 Rugby season, the 1st XV did not lose a match.

One of his dreaded instructions was “Two laps!”, which meant that the boys attending the training session had to run twice round the rugby pitch. This could happen several times during a session, especially if someone was “naughty” in training terms. You had to respect the team! In reality, the team members he coached were more or less continually running during most of the training sessions. Sometimes the latter also involved unopposed rugby, which was extremely shattering, and included group skills exercises (e.g. forwards and backs) while we were actually running. On reflection his methods were very sensible, but catching the bus home for a sit down was a very welcome event. We could relax for a while and enjoy the daily entertainment – whether or not the heavily loaded school bus would manage to get up a local, very steep hill.

Under 15 Rugby Team 1958-59

Here is my rugby team another year on. Five of this team were selected to play for South Yorkshire against teams such as Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. We found that it was a big step up but we did OK. I enjoyed the challenge.

The boys were again obviously bigger and in my case (front row, extreme right) the weight training had certainly been effective. However, we still lost yet again to Wakefield Grammar by 13 points to 6. Wakefield were a very good group of rugby players and they had earned our respect with their four wins in three years. Sometimes you just have to shake their hands and admit you lost to a better side.

My Under 15 team sometimes played against the senior boys. We always lost but it was good experience for us. My nose is still slightly “not straight” as l was caught by the heel of the school sprint champion when I attempted a tackle from behind. My technique was not good enough.

My new interest in Athletics meant that I had a chance to put the Youth Club weight-training to another use. The javelin event was not for me as my throwing-arm elbow was not happy with the movement required. However, with the Shot and Discus events I felt fine.

I was not really big enough for my two events. To compensate, I could weight-train more, but I was still only of average height and that would probably be the main limiting factor in achieving greater distance. I thought I would be OK as a school athlete, but no further. The answer while I was at school, was to look in greater detail at my techniques for the two events and see where improvements could be made.

In the Shot Putt, I decided I needed an example of a technique which I could apply to myself. I chose the basic technique of Parry O’Brien (Olympic Champion 1952 and 1956). He would start with his back to the direction of throw and glide across the circle, to gain momentum, before launching the shot quite high.

My brother-in-law, who was an Army Shot Putt champion at one time, provided me with a large heavy iron ball (17 lbs) and I would build my style using it at home. The back lawn took a pounding so I moved to a rough cinder path at the back of our rear garden. I could not send the 17 lbs ball very far, but specific muscles were being trained in comparison to using weights, which usually trained muscle groups in general. I started to improve and had quite a lot of success in events such as the school matches and Sports Days. This became infectious and I would even take the 17 lbs ball on holiday and work with it on the beach. Good fun. Happily nobody tried to kick it.

Here I am at a training session in 1962. After the Parry O’Brien backwards glide and rotation to face forward, I would launch the shot quite high.

I was now one year into my Ordinary level G.C.E. courses and so had even less time for Sport. I had, therefore, to cut down on training in general and concentrate more on improving my technique in the events.

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