One of the first (of many) games that I excelled at was rounders. I was five years old but could still hit a tennis ball into the laurel bushes at the internationally renowned Southdown School, half way down Jarvis Lane in the pretty Sussex town of Steyning, under the watchful eye of headmistress Dallas Brown. To be honest, I was never on first name terms with Mrs Brown but I have never met anyone else called Dallas and have therefore always remembered the name! Apart from rounders, all I can remember about my time at Southdown was being forced to drink quarter-pints of warm milk at break and the stench that emanated from a large spaniel called Shadow who was also covered with warts and put me off dogs for many years; until I too came to own a smelly spaniel with a couple of large warts.
The rules of rounders are fairly straightforward, although there is more to the game than I had realised. I will not go into the intricacies but the basics are as follows:
- Teams can be a minimum of 6 players and a maximum of 15 players; 9 players are on the field for each team at any one time.
- One team bats while the other team fields and bowls.
- The bowler bowls the ball to the batter, who hits the ball anywhere on the rounders pitch. The batter then runs to as many posts as possible before the fielders return the ball to touch the post the batter is heading for.
- Games are usually played over 2 innings.
For those of you who like your history I have discovered:
The game of rounders has been played in England since Tudor times, with the earliest reference being in 1744 in A Little Pretty Pocket-Book where it was called "base-ball" by John Newbery. In 1828, William Clarke in London published the second edition of The Boy's Own Book, which included the rules of rounders and the first printed description in English of a bat and ball base-running game played on a diamond. The following year, the book was published in Boston, Massachusetts.
The first nationally formalised rules were drawn up by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in Ireland in 1884. The game is still regulated by the GAA in Ireland. In the United Kingdom it is regulated by Rounders England, which was formed in 1943. While the two associations are distinct, they share similar elements of game play and culture. Competitions are held between teams from both traditions, with games alternating between codes and one version being played in the morning and the other in the afternoon.
As part of my research for this Team of the Week piece, I spoke to the Marketing Officer for Rounders England, Julia Rice. Julia was very helpful and told me that there are around 40 rounders leagues in the country including one in Shropshire. Rounders England play a number of fixtures a year but the big game is generally against Wales. This year it will take place at the University of Leicester on Sunday July 20th and I imagine that tickets will be hard to come by. The away fixture is Sunday 17th August somewhere in Wales!
As the start of the first match of Shrewsbury School's rounders season against a strong Bedstone side became imminent, the Shrewsbury coaches Nicola (I-Can-Coach-Anything) Bradburne and Grace (So-Can-I) Woo put their heads together to determine the line up and discuss tactics. The team was chosen from a keen and enthusiastic gang of young women who wanted a break from the rigours of revision and a blast of fresh air.
The team was a mixture of novices such as Poppy Crowe, who admitted to me that she was playing her first match for the School in any form of team sport other than rowing, and experienced operatives such as Charlotte (known as Chaz) Harris who has international experience, having represented the Welsh under-15 team. Her experience was soon in evidence as she scooted round for a rounder after a powerful hit. Connie Osborne was also keen to show her prowess, having been last year’s captain and she admitted to me that it is a game she is fond of. “It is a game I am fond of,” she said.
Gaby Byrne told me that she has always enjoyed rounders and that she was one of last year’s regulars. She recently completed the London Marathon with an eye on her fitness for this year’s rounders squad. (It's worth mentioning here that she raised £5,000 for the charity devoted to helping Parkinson’s sufferers and her donation page is still open - see the feature article elsewhere on this website: Shrewsbury pupil runs the London Marathon.) "I just hope I have the stamina to cope with a two-innings game of rounders," she told me. "I don’t want to let the School, Mrs Bradburne, my Housemistress, my Tutor, my friends, my teammates, my parents, the rest of my family, Liverpool or myself down.” Gaby has actually admitted to an addiction to rounders and if you know anyone in a similar plight, you can contact me and I will put you in touch with the ‘Reliant on Rounders’ help and advice service. It has to be said that her training has paid off as she was voted most consistent player on second base by the coaches.
Another consistent performer was Hattie Warner. She was the team bowler and also one of the most effective hitters. I asked her how it felt to be the team bowler and she said that she was “very honoured and that she embraced the awesome responsibility as a chance to show future employers that she could cope in highly stressful environments”.
In the warm up Phoebe Barboza looked as if she was going to be a threat to the opposition and she admitted that her past association with baseball had given her a competitive edge. Lucy Petch was enjoying a break from fencing and Abby Attenborough wanted to thank her parents and brother for helping hone her skills in the garden. Charlie Perkins hit the ball well and admitted that “it is more exercise than I was expecting”. She decided to sit the second innings out “to give lesser players a chance to develop”, which was very noble of her.
Raphie Major was hitting the ball well but ran herself out in what she described as a “mad moment of over-excitement”. “It was all so exciting I just lost my head,” she told me. Izzy Turney was in charge of the motivational music. She had brought Now 87 along to add a little atmosphere to proceedings. Apparently the team song was Timber by Ke$ha. Izzy Croft was another rounder scorer and, in the words of her coaches, showed much potential.
Miss Woo and Mrs Bradburne were united in their admiration of the team. They felt that, as in life, rounders is all about connections and that the Shrewsbury team did not have quite as many as the Bedstone team on the day, losing 8 and a half to 7 and a half. It was a close run thing and it was clear that everyone on both sides was having a good time. I found it uplifting to see sport being played for fun on a sunny afternoon with lots of smiles. I found myself reliving some of my earliest days and being reminded of the camaraderie, excitement and joy that a sport played in a good spirit with good friends can bring in its purest form. There should be more rounders!