Run Juniors, Run!

(Photo credit Grace Mackintosh Sim)

Elizabeth Ayres introduces us to a new and enthusiastic generation of Serpies.

If you’ve attended the Tuesday evening track training at Paddington Rec, turned up to slog through mud and over hills at the Met League cross country or looked up from some of the yummy cake offerings at Summer League you may have seen one, two or even a few miniature red and gold dynamos. Ladies and gents, you have witnessed the rapidly growing and tenacious Under 11 Junior Squad!

When I originally began writing this article, I wanted to focus on the Junior Squad as a whole because they have had an amazing year, but are often overlooked as the focus is on the achievements of senior Serpies. Kids, being true to form, have scuppered my plans and so I’ve decided to focus on the U11s and their surprising first year.

Grace Mackintosh-Sim is the person responsible for bringing an U11s squad to the Juniors. Without a doubt, she proved others wrong when they questioned her idea and whether the kids were even capable of asking if they could go to the toilet by themselves at that age. Megan and Rachelle do a fabulous job with Grace, coaching and ensuring the training is fun while also getting the juniors to turn up at the right meets in the right kit. The first U11s training session took place in September 2017. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength and is currently the talk of the club due to its successes. Happily, they manage the toilet unaided!

The Under-11s at the MYAL. (Photo credit Grace Mackintosh-Sim)

The winter season of 2017 saw the U11s take part for the first time in the Met League. Finley Hamilton made his debut for Serpies and was the first U11 to join the start line for the Met League meet at Claybury in October. At Welwyn Garden in November, Fin was joined by Joe Maughan and Reilly Ayres making their debuts for Serpentine and the U11s. As it happened, these last two youngsters weren’t supposed to run due to being only 8 years old…. oops! Despite being the youngest competing, they gave it everything they had in a field of older, competitive runners.

Skipping through the chilly months, when snow and ice derailed many a seniors’ race or training but certainly didn’t put off the juniors racing around the track, we’ll head to the sunnier times of April through to July 2018. That’s when the U11s first began officially participating in their own right at the Middlesex Young Athletes League (MYAL) and when, finally, the squad found some girls to field and put together their first ever relay team. The U11s did great, considering many of them were debuting for Serpentine, competing against seasoned athletes, and had not been involved in any competitions except for inter-school events.

The club’s AGM in September 2018 saw the Junior Squad hitting the limelight when coach Grace Mackintosh-Sim was awarded the Secretary’s Shield for ‘her hard work, tremendous enthusiasm and real commitment to the juniors’. If you’re unaware, the shield is presented to a member or members who, in the personal judgement of the Honorary Secretary, has greatly contributed to the club, above and beyond what might be expected from an ordinary member. Grace rightly deserves the award but promptly made it clear she was accepting it on behalf of the entire Junior Squad.

Grace with the Secretary's Shield. (Photo credit Eda Korkmaz)

This season’s Met League has unfortunately seen a drop in U11 boys with only Reilly competing so far. But at long last, we have seen the debut of the first U11 girls. Sophia Davis and Lottie Freyman have shown they can have as much fun in the mud as the rest of us and are equally determined to throw everything in to their races.

So, you’d think with the busy year they had, a Secretary’s shield and so many fantastic debuts, the juniors would be done celebrating, right? Wrong!

The annual Christmas party for the Junior Squad was full to the brim of excitement, good food and just a few surprises.

Henrik, who debuted for Serpentine just in time for the MYAL league, was awarded ‘most promising U11’. Henrik is only 8 years old and fully deserves the award. He consistently improved on his times and placings during the MYAL U11s 75m with a season best of 11.21 and likely first place. Henrik was authorised to compete in the schools ISA league despite being at least a year underage, running the 60m and 75m. He won them both, with his 60m setting a regional record at 9.2 seconds, qualifying on both counts to compete at Nationals where he placed second. I’ve seen him run and he can certainly put some of the teen and senior Serpies through their paces!

Henrik on the track. (Photo credit Kjersti Willett)

The celebrations do not stop there!

The John Stonham Farewell Cup is awarded annually to the runner who, in the judgement of the Committee, inspires others by being 1) a new runner who shows significant “improvement, but not necessarily victories” 2) an experienced runner returning from injury or illness or 3) a runner showing enthusiasm in the sport even without victory.

The Committee decided that, for the first time since it was introduced in 1993, a junior should be awarded the John Stonham Farewell Cup. Nine-year-old Reilly is now the youngest Serpie to hold the cup. Writing about that particular U11 junior fills me with pride. That’s not just because I’m his mum but also because I appreciate Peter Clarke, who is the committee member responsible for the Juniors, the coaches and all the committee members for continuing to recognise that winners do not always equate to podium places.

Reilly joined Serpentine late October 2017 after declaring several months previously that he wanted to be a Serpie when I joined the club. He competes in three events for MYAL and runs 1.5 km at the Met League. Currently Reilly has no victories, his best placing has been fourth in a sprint. He has high functioning autism, yet none of this has stopped him from putting on his Serpie vest and hitting the start line, more often than not with a smile on his face. Reilly is usually to be found at the back of the pack in middle distance but he never, ever quits.

He is still super chuffed about the award and I don’t blame him. It’s a huge recognition of his dedication to running, plus someone in this house has to have silverware and it won’t be this old tortoise!

Reilly with the John Stonham Farewell Cup. (Photo credit Peter Clarke)

The U11s have had an outstanding first year and it’ll be hard to beat but I believe they will surprise us all further in 2019. The kids are a shining example of how much heart the coaches put in to the squad, and are truly amazing, hardworking and determined individuals. If you don’t believe me then turn up to cross country or Tuesday early evening training or maybe drop by a MYAL meet to watch and support them.

Just a word of warning though, Seniors, they are coming for your podium places!

Elizabeth Ayres began running in 2017 and has decided after four marathons that the only podium place she will win is for ‘best marathon partier.'