Independent School Parent, Spring 2015, girls are taking on sports traditionally played by boys, leaving the gender stereotype behind. It’s about time, says Eleanor Doughty. HMC member schools Felsted, Oakham, Royal Masonic School for Girls, Wycombe Abbey, Brighton College and Malvern College feature.
"Howzat!" That’s what you’ll hear on Felsted School’s cricket pitches. Like any other school worth its salt, it has a formidable first and second eleven… of boys. But it also has another first eleven team that is quietly establishing itself.
For Felsted, from its charming Essex village, is among a collection of schools that offer girls' cricket. And it is thriving. In place for only a couple of years, it has generated more than enough support to field a team for a full season this year.
Jason Gallian, ex-England cricketer, has been head of cricket at Felsted for five years. When the school was looking to reorganise the rounders provision, he suggested the girls got their whites on.
“We’ve always had girls that played with boys, to a certain extent, but there’s been a real push to get girls’ cricket up and running,” he explains. “Cricket has a [male] stigma attached to it, so we’re trying to break down those barriers. In the England team, there are some fantastic role models for the girls to look up to.”
Girls’ cricket at Felsted has been very well received. “Parents can see that it’s a sport that seems to be taking off,” Gallian says. “We’re now an ‘Inspirational School for Girls’ Cricket’ [a name given by Essex County Cricket Club], meaning the Essex girls will train on our turf, and county games are played on our main pitch.”
A growing trend
Felsted aren’t the only ones getting in on the girls’ cricket game. Down in East Sussex, at Brighton College, girls can apply for the Clare Connor cricket scholarship. The school has been playing girls’ cricket for over a decade, fielding teams for all age groups, and winning national competitions.
Cricket isn’t the only sport that is taking off for girls. Ladies’ football is hardly a new addition to national school sport provision but nowadays, those that don’t offer girls’ football seem to be the exception.
Schools as diverse as Wycombe Abbey in Buckinghamshire, St Swithun’s in Hampshire and Malvern College in Worcestershire have long had football teams in their sporting roster.
Further pockets of sport free from gender stereotype are scattered countrywide, too. At Oakham School in Rutland, sixth former Emma Peters weightlifts, while at the Royal Masonic School in Hertfordshire, Ruth Pilborough-Skinner became the U18 Full Contact World Kickboxing Champion last November. Further north at Sedbergh, Cumbria, girls can fish, and at Gordonstoun in Moray, golf is on offer.
The growing number of girls getting involved in all kinds of sport is promising. At co-ed schools, it’s especially important. While many girls’ schools foster a gung-ho approach to gender equality that is unrivalled by their co-ed neighbours, “gender blending” in sport is thriving.
But for girls, it’s about more than just prowess on the pitch. “It says ‘you can do whatever you want’, which is a powerful message,” Jo MacKenzie says.
And that, really, is well overdue, isn’t it?
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