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School sports day, love it or hate it? The big betty showdown

Where do you stand on the matter of the sacred school sports day? Lauren and Lily battle it out…

Lauren hated sports day:

Look, we can pretend that I hated sports day for deep, possibly spiritual reasons. I could say that I believe making vulnerable teenagers compete against each other is morally wrong, because really we should celebrate each other’s differences rather than labelling people ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. I could claim I objected to the shoddy equipment or the race conditions, because usually I exercised at an Olympic-standard sports ground with my world class athletic coach.

But I think you’d see straight through that and realise the real reason I hated sports day is the obvious reason anybody hates sports day: I was crap at sport.

And not cheerfully crap, but painfully, awkwardly crap. If you could burn calories through self-consciousness then I’d have been practically a Williams sister. And it didn’t help that we had to do it all in ‘knicker shorts’, the cruellest of all PE kits, which were just giant navy granny pants with stripes down the side. The only physical activity I was ever good at was dance, which (in what was tbh a short-sighted move on my school’s part) wasn’t included in summer sports day. So sports day meant a day-long reminder that I was about as athletic as a marshmallow flump, and tended to melt as quickly under in the sun too.

Side note: why is it always as hotter than the core of the earth on sports day? Any other time you want nice weather, you’re guaranteed it will rain – but the day you have to spend doing sweaty cardio in small shorts on a massive shade-free rectangle of green? Totally tropical, all day long. Blazing, punishing heat. Genuinely the only high point was waiting for Miss Hardy the PE teacher to come in the next day with a bright pink lobster face and white circles where her sunglasses had been.

We were all required to enter at least one event, and since my friends’ suggestions of ‘sitty-downy badminton’ and ‘cross-country gossiping’ had been rejected, I would choose whichever event was going to be over quickest and have minimum chance of humiliation. Then I’d play on my advantageous position as a massive teacher’s pet by volunteering to walk round selling (eating) ice creams. Every year, the same survival strategy. Except for one year.

One year, I decided to have a go. In a fit of weirdly uncharacteristic enthusiasm, I signed myself up for the hurdles.

And do you know what, guys? I was actually ok at the hurdles. I was almost… good, even. My dance training came in handy as I flew over each metal bar like a stag leap, wind whistling round my ears, and even the running part in between was bearable because I was so focused on the rhythm of the race. Amazingly, with my astonished friends whooping and cheering on the sidelines, I leapt over that final hurdle in second place.

My arms flew up in triumph and I let out an animal yell. SECOND. ME. I’d come second! I was a sportswoman! I’d taken on all my lazy demons and crushed them in one 30-second blaze of glory! I’d proved myself! I’d made everyone proud! I– I– I hadn’t finished the race.

All I remember was looking up, mid-victory dance, through the blur of other competitors rushing past me, to see my friends and my PE teacher mouthing like maniacs and signalling frantically at a point on the grass about three metres in front of me. The finish line. The finish line that isn’t, it turns out, at the exact same point as the final hurdle because HURDLES ARE STUPID. SPORTS DAY IS STUPID. I came last.

My sports day career ended there, three lousy metres from the finish line. From then on I stuck with dancing and ice creams, and exercise in air conditioned studios, wearing proper shorts. And I’ve been very happy that way ever since.

Lily loved sports day:

I loved sports day. When I told Lauren this, she rolled her eyes and said: “Of course you did.”

But I don’t love sports days for the same reasons most people seem to. Most people like them because they’re, well, good at sports. I am not good at sports. I cannot run fast or throw things far or jump particularly high but that didn’t stop them from being one of my favourite days of the year. I loved all the rituals around sports days: the cheers and the face paint and buying chips from the canteen that scolded the roof of my mouth. I loved watching people, red-faced and exhausted but beaming with pride as they crossed the finish line. I loved the embarrassed faces people would pull when they realised they completely screwed up throwing a discus. I loved that it was a day where I was part of a house, as opposed to most other school days where I was meant to be in competition with everyone around me. Plus, it was the closest thing to being in Harry Potter that my muggle life would allow.

At my school you got one point towards your house for every event you competed in, regardless of how you placed. So every year my best friend, Jo and I would enter literally everything, bustling around the circuit, skipping excitedly to the javelin, then running 800m and then throwing a pitiful shotput. We would criss-cross past each other, cartwheeling with excitement, pausing midway through whatever we were doing when we saw each other streak past on the running track and cheering so loudly that at the end of the day our voices ended up husky.

Somewhat ironically, for me sports days were the least competitive day of the year. I was never going to win, but as long as I took part, I was doing my bit to help my house. To be honest, it probably helped that I didn’t have a coordinated bone in my body because it meant that I didn’t put any pressure on myself, and nor did anyone else. Sports days reminded me that there was nothing wrong with being bad at something, as long as you tried.

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Image: Amber Griffin

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