The 2017 School Games is now over, it was a great tournament with phenomenal basketball being played throughout the four days of competition. All six teams did well and always displayed sportsmanship after every game. Thank you to everyone who made the event possible.
Everyone travelled to the venue on Thursday, some travelling from as far north as Dundee and as far south as London, one athlete lived in Loughborough itself. Once everyone had arrived, we got our accommodation keys and checked in with enough time to have dinner and attend the School Games opening ceremony. The ceremony was a spectacle, it simulated a Paralympic feel; when the ceremony was over, it was official, the games had begun.
The first game of the tournament was in Pool A as England Central took on Scotland. The defending champions overcome Scotland 78-39, however, the score did not reflect the nature of the game as the Beattie brothers, Leitch and Manson all got their names on the scoreboard and put up a good performance against a strong team despite not managing to match the shooting precision of Cusack and Hassell.
Meanwhile in Pool B, England South beat Northern Ireland 45-28. The South started strong led by the likes of Barker and Tobin. Despite Northern Ireland facing the tough challenge, they didn’t give up as Morrow and Nagle showed determination till the end as coach MacSorley gave encouragement to his team throughout the game.
After a defeat earlier in the day, Scotland were all fired up for their next game against Wales. Scotland ended up winning 60-34 meaning they were through to the semi-finals for the first time in four years. It was a great game, everyone got court time and played well on both sides. As a journalist, I am supposed to be unbiased when it comes to writing reviews, however, I think everyone that saw that game can agree that James Beattie deserved MVP, after going into beast mode and scoring a staggering 28 points to secure the victory for Scotland. It’s a shame he wasn’t allowed off campus to go to a bank so he could cash in all the money he scored.
The final game of day one saw England North against Northern Ireland. Prior to the game, North were considered one of the most dominant teams in the competition and this proved their dominance after a 67-16 win. Players like Fryer showcased their unmatchable agility and speed, his fast breaks provided scoring opportunities for the team left, right and centre. The captain, Barnes was selfless, he assisted his teammates’ baskets. Tonner used his height advantage to be a threat inside. Doherty made the opposition underestimate him and always got into the key to score a lay-up at any chance he could. Warburton was an outside threat, being able to score from any range. Like I said before, through difficult competition Northern Ireland showed tenacity and never gave up.
As the tournament continued, day two began as the pool stages needed to be finalised so the semi-finals could go ahead. The penultimate pool game was England Central vs. Wales. It was a close game in the first half with Wales only trailing two points behind, this would be a confidence boost for co-captains Jones and Griffith-Salter. However, England Central steamrolled ahead in the second half resulting in a 67-39 win, cementing their place at the top of Pool A and the semi-final.
That left Pool B’s winners to be decided as England North faced England South. The North continued to grind to get a 77-29 victory. Once again; Fryer, Doherty, Barnes, Tonner and Warburton showed their dominance in the competition, despite the South fighting back with responses from Tobin, Barker and the youngster Batista, it was North that grabbed the last remaining spot in the semi-finals.
The first semi-final game saw Scotland battle England North. Scotland came up short on this occasion, losing 58-29. However, the squad performed well defensively because they managed to keep North under double digits for the entire first quarter which no team in the history of School Games has ever done. The North pushed through for the rest the game and were victorious on the buzzer of the fourth quarter to progress to the final.
The second semi-final game was England Central vs. England South. Much like the North in the previous game, Central were respectfully ruthless against the South and picked up a 63-37 win even with South’s Tobin scoring buckets from the 45-degree position; it was Central that advanced to the final thus ending day two.
The third and final day of competition was fast approaching and to start off Northern Ireland faced Wales in the 5th/6th place playoff. It was a close game in the first half. However, during the second half Wales went all guns blazing, resulting in a 53-36 win for the Welsh Dragons. This must’ve been a good feeling for one individual in particular, Wales’ Frankie Jones who has played for Wales in seven School Games, this year being his last and in his final U19s game for his country he captained the squad to victory.
The next game was the closest fought game throughout the entire tournament as Scotland took on England South. It was neck-and-neck the whole game, it could’ve gone either way at any point as there was only a maximum of a five-point deficit. It was through the coaches’ perfectly timed time-outs, Ben Leitch’s composed free throws, Josh Manson’s monster rebounds, David Beattie’s fast break lay-ups and James Beattie’s ability to complete 3-point plays that enabled Scotland to be victorious by two points, ending 56-54. Scotland made history by becoming the first-ever home nation to win a medal at School Games in wheelchair basketball. However, none of this would’ve been achievable if it wasn’t for the vibes of support from the bench, everyone played a part in getting the win; whether that’s on or off the court. Credit to Austin Kentebe and his England South team for providing us with the toughest competition we have ever gone up against.
Now it was time for the final, England Central vs. England North. Much like the Wales and Northern Ireland game it was close in the first half with both teams managing to score 20 points apiece. However, in the third quarter the North dug down deep to push ahead by 10 points and maintained the lead till the final buzzer, winning 52-44 thus becoming champions for the first time in four years. It was certainly a confidence boost for the whole team especially for Lucas Warburton and captain Tom Barnes who competed in their final School Games.
Overall, personally I enjoyed my experience at School Games, it was my last tournament as a junior and I will forever treasure winning the bronze medal; it’s a nice way to end my junior career. Here’s to the next chapter.
Bonus fact, Rosie Williams who was England Central’s team manager recorded some game footage from all of Central’s games which are available to watch on the RAW Coaching Facebook page, available at: https://www.facebook.com/RAWCoachingWB/
I hope you enjoyed reading this article. Stay tuned I’ll be back next week.
Written by Dylan Cummings