LOCAL schools headed to Winchester Sport and Leisure Park for the 2022 Winchester City Penguin Primary Schools Gala.
The annual event made its return today, welcoming 24 Winchester schools and over 200 children after two years of Covid cancellations.
The full list of competing schools: All Saints, Bishop’s Waltham, John Keble, Kings Worthy, Merdon, Oliver’s Battery, Otterbourne, Owslebury, Princes Mead, Scantabout, Sherborne House, South Wonston, St Bede, St Faith’s, St Peter’s, St Swithun Wells, St. Swithun’s, Stanmore, Pilgrims’, Twyford, Twyford St Marys, Upham, Weeke, Westgate and Winnall.
The Winchester City Penguin Swim Club (WCPSC) had around 70 volunteers to ensure the day ran as smoothly as possible, with most of the children having never swum competitively.
Thelma Hawkings, event organizer and club swimming coach, said: “It’s nice to see this finally happening – it’s been three years since the last gala and now we have a new venue, so it’s is exciting.
“For a lot of these swimmers, they don’t represent their school to anything else, so it’s wonderful for them to be able to do that. And the confidence they get from it is incredible, whether they are first or last.
Event sponsors such as Embley Park and St. Swithun’s School as well as Winchester Mayor Cllr Derek Green were also on hand to show their support and take part in the awards ceremony.
The mayor said: “It’s extremely important for the children because it allows them to interact with other schools, they can make lots of friends, it’s a lot of fun and it keeps them healthy.
“It’s absolutely fabulous that we can get back to normal now. Everyone is happy and it’s nice to see people having fun.
Nearly 30 races were held including individual and relay races as well as an invitational fun float relay for all swimmers to win a prize.
Thelma and a small committee began planning in January. Justin Bradley, Chairman of the Board, said: “It takes a lot of preparation. A lot of people who are with Winchester Penguins are volunteers and so they give a lot of time to put on a big gala for all the local kids.
“As a charity, we have a real responsibility to take care of the community. So I think it’s really important for people to see the school galas happening and help the community.
Although the center was filled with cheers and excitement, the event highlighted how the pandemic has hurt children’s swimming lessons.
Event organizer Thelma said: ‘It’s been very difficult the past few years when the pools have been closed. Parents struggled because they were unable to put their children in the pool, whether at school or outside of school.
Volunteer Lionel Jones, who has helped the club for 20 years, said: “Swimming is a life skill. And for parents, that means you can relax if you’re going on vacation or to the beach and your kids are in the water.
“The goal is for children to be able to swim 25m (one length) before leaving primary school.”
Halfway through the gala, some of the club’s senior swimmers took center stage. The swimmers, who compete nationally, swam laps at three-quarter speed to show the children how it was done.
The WCPSC also had talent spotters by the pool, handing out club invitations to promising competitors. The club said that “it is always in our interest to try to get more good swimmers”.
The event ended at noon with prize giving and a certificate and goodie bag for each contestant. The WCPSC hopes to be back at the Barend facility with the 21st Elementary Schools Gala next year.
The full list of event sponsors: Southern Communications Group, Alexander Design, Christes Hospital Foundation, Embley School, Hendy Group, Resourceful Marketing, Ringo, Sportskool, St. Swithun’s School, Winchester Connected and Everyone Active.
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