Sport has been a core part of life at Leighton Park since the very beginning. In fact, it is noted that on the first day of school in 1890, the boys accompanied the Headmaster to buy a football.
Sport in a Quaker school is a topic for much debate and also mythology about Quakers and competition. Ultimately the Leighton Park approach has always been the emphasis on working as a team, learning to get on with people and the ability for students of all abilities to get involved in sport as much as they would like. Changing trends in sport and developments in school, such as the end of Saturday School and obviously, the move to co-education, as well as the passions of specific teachers, have impacted on the nature of sports and games on offer. As with Music and Drama, the story of sport includes the transition from being perceived as a leisure activity versus a significant element of the school day, and ultimately also an academic subject.
Football, tennis and cricket were the main sports of the early school; for some time the school was too small to play competitively as there were not enough boys to field teams; Leonard Doncaster described a game of 2-a-side football in 1890; staff were roped in to make up numbers. Football was curtailed between 1925 and 1942, following the arrival of rugby; it replaced hockey during World War II.
The first cricket match ever was played against J Waugh’s XI in 1891: The Leightonian records “Our opponents won easily by 53 runs, not such a difficult affair when we only totalled 12 and 18 in two innings. Six of the team failed to score a single run.”
The first ever Athletics Championships were held in 1891: N Goodbody ran the mile in 6 minutes and 48 seconds and the senior 100 yards in 13.75 seconds. W Spriggs won the long jump with 13 feet, 5 inches and the High Jump with 4 foot 4. Remember these are the days before crash mats and the Fosbury flop! Prizes were given in money as an incentive. Maybe the slow bicycle race should be revived? Alfred Heald took I minute 51 seconds to ride 50 yards.
The cross-country course used to be 4.5 miles down to the flood plain of the Loddon, but the arrival of the M4 and the Lower Earley development somewhat curtailed that.
Swimming began in 1898 “to encourage “swimming and diving not only as a means of getting cool but an exercise”. The first swimming pool was built as a Memorial to the first Head, Benjamin Townson; the original plaque is now embedded in the wall at the end of the gymnasium. It is now buried beneath the parking area next to the David Linday. The present pool was built in 1974, initially outdoors. Life-saving was a key feature of swimming in the early days.
Rugby was not played until 1925, and replaced football for a time: the Athletic Committee recording a communication from the Lower Vth to adopt rugger when the school acquired Ten Acre and Five Acre fields. The first match on 18th February was against Newbury Gramma School; Leighton Park lost 19-12.
The gymnasium or sports hall was opened in October 1953. Gymnastics played a large part in school life, partly with Mr Mauritzi, exponent of Swedish style gymnastic teaching, and later by legendary Sports Master "Hoppy", Thomas Hopkins who arrived in 1930 to take charge of PE. Himself a star gymnast, representing Great Britain at the Olympics in his youth, his unassuming nature and quiet persuasion and dedication, lifted Leighton Park sport to new levels.
Hockey started in 1918, and by accounts, early matches could be quite wild, and as happens, the sport had peaks and troughs, not being played between 1942 and 1970. The arrival of coach George Bambridge reinvigorated the sport and in fact two OLs became Hockey Blues at Oxford and Cambridge.
In 1934 Sir Egbert Cadbury presented a Squash court to the school; this was converted into a Drama Studio in the late 1990s.
In 1926 Water polo was played for the first time.
A popular sport in the early days was Fives; sadly the courts were demolished in 1964 to make more space for science labs (the present Biology).
Canoeing: There was a pithy remark at the time that “Canoeing isn’t just a sport at Leighton Park, it’s a religion”. Legendary Head of PE Bernard Perrett was a passionate and enthusiastic and internationally successful trainer of canoeists. He was appointed as an Olympic coach, and his skills and experience were invaluable. Leighton Park became known as the best school in the country for canoeing, and this was reflected in students’ frequent successes in the testing Devizes-Westminster race, and in the selection of LP canoeists on a number of occasions for the national team.
Basketball also reached high standards under Bernard’s coaching.
The arrival of the girls in the Sixth Form shook up the sport programme, and girls’ sport has developed over the years. Leighton Park has punched above its weight in Netball and Hockey in regional and national competitions, with girls often competing at regional and national level. And now in the 2018, the girls are seeing new success playing cricket and football.