The measuring tape comes out at Victoria Bowling Club. Credit: Roger Mann

Retro Sport: Avenging Jocelyn with world’s first schools’ bowls league

Roger Mann

Back in the 1950s, I shared a flat with a friend, at school, called Jocelyn Pettifer.

Jocelyn was a gentle, quiet lad, who loved Latin and the classics, but dreaded sports periods.

The trouble for Jocelyn was that he was born with a spindly frame, and was very short-sighted from birth.

He was frightened of a cricket ball, and had absolutely no chance on a rugby field.

He often told me how much he would like to be part of a team, getting exercise, and socialising in a group, but, for him, that was never to be.

Fifty years after seeing Jocelyn for the last time, I was chairing a meeting of Torbay Sports Council when Item 7 on the agenda was ‘Initiative for 2008’.

At the T.S.C. we recognised how easily organisations like ours became talk shops, so, made ourselves promise to have a new ‘initiative’ each year.

We had already introduced Go for It, and Talent Scout but, this year, we were struggling for ideas until, suddenly, I remembered Jocelyn.

How could we develop an alternative for those youngsters who just don’t get on with physical sports? After a while it came to me: A school bowls league and we would call it the ‘Jocelyn Initiative’.

I shared my enthusiasm with Jason Trevarthen from Paignton Community and Sports College, and he promised his full support.

It would take some organising but he agreed to communicate with the schools, if I tried to get the clubs to back the idea.

Although it sounded simple, we soon realised that we would need to consider funding.

After all, we couldn’t expect the clubs to loan their precious bowling balls to teenage novices, and, anyway, the clubs would need to make some sort of a charge for the use of their greens! And what about trophies for the winners?

At our next meeting, Catherine Williams, Torbay Council’s wonderfully creative sports officer, came up with the idea of applying for a grant from Sports Unlimited, and we duly lodged our claim.

Although I had hoped that the bowling clubs would support the initiative, I never expected the open-armed welcome that I received wherever I went!

Brian Wildbore (Victoria), Ron Mitchell (Paignton Torbay), Ray McDonald (Paignton), Basil Goad (Upton), Ruth Rogers (Kings), and Mike Birch (Torquay) all offered their greens for our opening 2009 season.

Not only would they make their greens available, but they would also offer free coaching from their members, and provide introductory sessions for all the youngsters who took part. Their enthusiasm seemed boundless.

In the meantime, Jason was working hard to sell the idea to the schools, and reported that he was confident that a number of them would take part.

During the winter of 2008, we were notified that our grant application had been successful, and we put all the finishing touches to an eight-week programme.

By May 2009, the world’s first schools’ bowls league was ready to be launched.

In the first year, we decided to have just four schools competing on three greens, with the idea of increasing our numbers in 2010, once any snags had been ironed out.

Torquay Community College, Westlands, Cuthbert Mayne, and Paignton Community and Sports College signed up for the first year, while Victoria, Upton, and Torbay/Paignton bowling clubs agreed to stage the matches.

On May 19, all four school teams met at Queens Park for a pre-season introduction session, and practice.

Ron Mitchell explained to the youngsters all about expected behaviour at bowling clubs, the scoring system, and how matches proceeded.

Once those basics were understood, coaching and practice began in earnest.

Eight club members had turned up to teach the youngsters how to bowl, and they commanded full attention.

The 11-13 year olds were spell-bound, and listened intently.

Once the talking was over, the green became a hive of activity.

As I stood there watching school children and adults sharing the joys of a sport together, it made all the work of the Sports Council seem worthwhile.

How lucky we are today, and just how sad that this was not here for Jocelyn when he needed it most!

Next week: The competition begins, and more and more teams join up!