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News > Memories > Part II: The progression of athletics at Oswestry School through the 1950/60s

Part II: The progression of athletics at Oswestry School through the 1950/60s

Talent blooms during a golden decade.
15 Apr 2023
Written by David Pickup
Memories

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1960's OOs

Title :  The Progression of Athletics at Oswestry School through the 1950 / 60s

 

Part 2  ...  Talent Blooms During a Golden Decade.

 

Main photograph: Oswestry School cross country squad, 1968. 

The Spring of 1961 saw records come tumbling down on Sports Day at Park Hall Stadium and it proved to be a portent for the golden decade that followed, as by 1968 six of the boys in the main photograph had represented Shropshire in cross country events. During this period records in many disciplines were broken time after time, and two field event records set in 1967 were still unbroken 41 years later in 2008. The one mile record of 4 mins, 36 secs, established by RLH Dennis in 1968 will never be broken as athletics at Oswestry School went metric in 1969.


Athletics team, 1968: Front, centre - RLH Dennis (Captain)

In the summer of 1962 it was noted in The Oswestrian magazine that for the first time Athletics had become a serious sport during the summer term, and that ARP Birch, having won the Victor Ludorum earlier in the year, was one of the first boys to carry the athletics torch to a National Level by officially representing the School and Shropshire in the All England Schoolboys' Championship at Hull. Unfortunately, a pulled muscle denied Athol his moment of glory and he was forced to retire from his race. He went on to participate twice more in the All England Championships before leaving school, and in addition to this he broke the Shropshire County record for the 100 yds and 220 yds. His time for the 100 yds when running for Oswestry against Park Hall Cadets was 10.1 seconds.


Excerpt from The Oswestrian, Summer 1962.

As interest in athletics continued to grow, school teams at all levels increasingly took part in inter-school competitions with not inconsiderable success when bearing in mind the relatively small pool of talent available for selection. By 1968 there were approximately two hundred pupils attending the school including boys in the Prep Department.

In 1963, for the first time in its history, The Preparatory School fielded its own team in home and away races against first year boys from Oswestry High School, winning each most convincingly during wintry conditions. In the away fixture our leading Prep School boys came in a very creditable 2nd and 3rd despite having had shoes dragged off in the mud, reminiscent of a similar experience that had befallen me just a few years earlier when competing against the 'old enemy' in snowy conditions.


Diary entry: 10 February, 1960.

The situation vis-a-vis the school's pool of talent would resolve itself in years to come with the increase in pupil numbers, but it would take time, and the demand on available sporting prowess was exacerbated in 1963 by the introduction of rugby to the school curriculum by Headmaster Richard Sale.

Stuart Holt, pictured top, far right in the photo below, Captained the team in 1966/67, and told me recently that he still harbors "not so fond" memories of competing for ball amongst the large number of cow-pats that bespattered the newly acquired rugby field adjoining the Maes-y-Llan. Apparently, in those early days, before the start of a game the field had to be cleared of meandering cattle which invariably expressed their disapproval by dispensing parting gifts as they left the field of play. How very unsportsmanlike!


School Rugby Team 1964-65 (Stuart Holt, top, far right)

With the help of David Ward, the School Archivist, I have acquired a plethora of interesting sporting statistics from the sixties, and I am also grateful to RLH Dennis, a former Captain of Athletics from this period, for the supply of relevant action photos and anecdotes. 

Roger will probably not thank me for highlighting his athletic achievements in this article, but both he and his younger brother Tim were keen athletes and they were two of a number of talented athletes who emerged during the decade. In paying generous tribute to Peter Harber, one of his rivals, Roger points to the massive contribution made by Peter, who was responsible for the design of the new cross-country vest with its diagonal strips, stating that he was a fine athlete who greatly reduced the 880 yds record to 2 mins, 4.2 secs. 

The javelin was introduced as a new field event in the early sixties and it quickly grew in popularity. Duncan Marshall's record of 148 ft, which broke the previous record by some 20 ft, was in turn shattered by a massive throw of 201 ft, 11.5 inches by Tim Dennis in 1970. This new breed of sportsmen were instrumental in raising the profile of athletics to an unprecedented level, and by the end of the decade the sport was competing on equal terms with the more traditional sporting activities of football and cricket.


Roger (left), and rival, Peter Harber.

 


Duncan Marshall   

 


Tim Dennis

 


Tim Dennis

Roger Dennis (1959-68), was a serious athlete and running held sway over everything else in his life during his time in the 6th Form at Oswestry School. Over several years he built up his stamina by following a gruelling training regime, often running up to eighteen miles per day, starting with a run before breakfast, and similarly again when school finished in the afternoon.

So painstaking was Roger about his cross-country running that he would sometimes make a late evening sortie into the Shropshire countryside after prep. Eventually this punishing schedule took its toll on his ankles and he resorted to running barefoot to alleviate the problem with his achilles tendon. On being treated at Gobowen Hospital a surgeon advised Roger to give up running. In 1968 Chas Wilkinson stepped up to the plate and won the Shropshire County Championship when Roger Dennis could not take part. Pictured leading the chasing pack up Broomhall Lane, Wilkinson also probably held the fastest time ever for The Triangle, which was undoubtedly the Blue Riband of running events at school during my time at Oswestry in the 1950s.


Roger running barefoot.

 


Chas Wilkinson, leading The Triangle. 

Competition was fierce in the mid 1960s, which led to more records falling, and a general improvement in performances. Battles between Peter Harber, Captain of Athletics in 1966, Roger Dennis, and others were hard fought, and talented characters emerged in a variety of  disciplines.

A Swedish boy, Lars Thaning, pictured below under the scrutiny of Masters JF Tilley and David Lewis, spent just one year at Oswestry in 1963 learning English, and he took the mile record down to a time of 4 mins, 48 secs - one of the four occasions on which the record fell during the sixties. RLH Dennis' time for the mile in 1967 was 4 mins, 42 secs, and he again broke it in 1968 with a final time of 4 mins, 36 secs, running bare-footed on the cinder track at Park Hall Army Camp.


Lars Thaning, with Stuart (George, to us all back in the day) Moffat in hot pursuit.

Roger assumed the Captaincy from Peter Harber in 1967 and he held it until leaving school in 1968. Overall, the year 1968 was a very memorable one for Athletics at Oswestry School, but details of successes in the various Championships entered are too numerous to mention here. I have, however, included a copy of RLH Dennis' report which can be seen below.





The Captain's Report for 1968.

The whole success of the season was crowned on Sports Day when six records were broken and one was equalled, the most spectacular being that of the High Jump. Geraint Griffiths broke this record, which had stood for 100 years, with a leap of 5 ft,10 inches - a National Standard at the time.

The decade was coming to an end with yet more records falling in 1969/70, and with numerous boys able to sport Shropshire County Badges resulting from efforts in track and field events. At last, Athletics and Cross Country had finally cemented itself into the school curriculum on a par with Football and Cricket.


The County Badge.

 


1968 Athletics team: (L-R) Front Row 'Curly' Walford, Geraint Griffiths, RLH Dennis (Captain), Duncan Marshall, Chas Wilkinson.
The middle three boys all broke school records in 1968, but all of them were record breakers during the s
ixties.

 

 


1968 Cross Country Team (note the boys wearing County Badges. RLH Dennis (Capt.) front centre).

            


Geraint Griffiths.

I will have more to say about some of this talented group of athletes from the sixties in my next article, and I apologise to any boys whom I should have included in this pantheon of stars.

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