The biennial Sports All-Nighter is by now a tried and tested premise, enjoyed by students, so recruitment for the 2018 version was easily done. Slightly worse news was the particularly virulent disease that ran through the School just before half-term, decimating houses and pushing the population of the Medical Centre well past its theoretical capacity. Over the days before the event, a handful of students and one member of staff had to drop out, being in variable but serious states of ill-health. Unlike in previous years when at least two teams had been captained by Sports Graduates, this year it was entirely academic staff, all of whom were looking forward to meeting Lower Sixth parents on Saturday morning as a cheering neon light the end of the tunnel of nocturnal sport.
There were a couple of last-minute adjustments to the programme before the start, owing to disappeared posts for the volleyball net and difficulty sourcing table tennis tables. Sports were extended (cricket, for example, to innings of a generous 3 overs per side) and dodgeball (with tennis balls) was added to fill the programme.
The other addition, replacing 2016’s lacrosse (which had been recognisable as such only by virtue of the equipment being used at the time), was indoor frisbee, introduced, explained and refereed by Mr Wray and somehow, astonishingly, won by his team. It was a clear sign of things to come that they were engaged, competitive and working hard for results, for points. My own team, by contrast, philosophers to a fault, seemed to place rather a higher value on being in the moment and enjoying themselves. With the joyful abandon of youth, they aspired to the spectacular above the dull but effective. I suspected then that this might lead to friction later, if fatigue should get the better of my own inner philosopher.
Quite soon on the programme was netball; at least in my memory it seemed quite soon. Maybe my memory is warped, for I know it was pulled forward to make sure it had been played before 4am. Shrewsbury as a busy place surpassed its usual exceptional standards; not even overnight could we command the students’ undivided loyalty; two of the participants had to leave at around 5 o’clock to join the Art History trip departing for Paris. One was a netballer, so netball was moved to make sure she would be able to participate. A naïve agreement on my part, as I learned when lined up against her: I distinctly remember doing a great deal of running to absolutely no effect whatever, destroying my feet in attempts to twist and turn in the various directions in which I was being sent and finally finding myself in exactly the place where the play had not been, just a second or two after it had not been there. The girls’ team demonstrated what could be done with well-timed movement and quick decisions and reactions; everyone else largely tried to keep up. Aside, of course, from Mr Wray’s team who, with focus and determination, were annoyingly more competent – or at least significantly less incompetent – than the rest of us.
Dr Oakley was doing his usual sterling work. He kept tallies on scores, who had won what, and produced a regularly updated leaderboard. I am not sure he had got my memo about designing a complex scoring system as the night went on which, in the best Corinthian traditions, subtracted points from anyone who seemed to be taking it too seriously or trying too hard. Despite terrible ungentlemanliness in these two regards, Mr Wray et al. were inexplicably in the lead from pillar to post. They also seemed to act under the careless impression that it mattered. Indeed, in the basketball hour as the night wore on, as the hot chocolate became warm chocolate, as the energy started draining from those of lower reserve, I was myself very nearly drawn under this unseemly spell.
In basketball I sniffed a chance to take on Mr Wray, for though his team were nimble, they were diminutive, and we had a giraffe called Sam. With an almost entirely undisguised desire to beat Mr Wrat at something, I berated one of my team – the one with both the greatest reserves of joyful abandon of youth and greatest desire to use them. How could I? Why would I bark at the one member of my team who had single-handedly done the most to keep our morale high and our smiles on? He, with both consternation and confusion, patiently explained to me that, far from hampering our efforts, he had in fact been buying us time by not passing the ball, as we were in the lead. After a little while and a tepid chocolate, my inner philosopher regained consciousness.
Mr Wray’s lead extended.
Some may have seen, in the past, that hunted look passing across the eyes of a deer just as it realises it’s being stalked, or experienced the moment’s silent tension which follows, before the chase. Rarely can you watch the hunted throughout that chase: adrenaline rising, fear constant, thought irrelevant, subservient to reflex and will to survive. In dodgeball, one can watch this. One sole, surviving player, hunted by eight of the opposition hurling tennis balls like spears. The entire hunt is slowed into almost existential catharsis, which is somehow heightened at 6:30am when well over 9 hours of sport have been played. It is a bizarre, cruel scene as the dodger limps, unarmed, about the back line of the gym, while the opposition, not frenzied but intent, are frustrated by successful dodges and somehow allowed to enjoy the making of that inevitable, eventual hit which closes the game and the night.
Aside from passing niggles and an earnest desire to spend Saturday watching curling for its more soporific qualities, all made it through the night unscathed. The two Art Historians made it to Paris; only two others fell, and then only in the last hour. One was suddenly struck by how comfortable two chairs in the corridor looked and spent an hour or so making sure his suspicion was correct; the other discovered that he had inadvertently brought a pillow and, having done so, felt it would be unjust to deprive the poor thing of being used for a while.
My sincere thanks must go to a number of people who made the event possible. Steve Drew, who in opening the event reminded us what we were really there for; Dave Wray and Charlie Oakley who stayed through the night and helped refereeing, scoring and keeping the atmosphere competitive but safe; Naomi Pritchard, Charlotte Rule, Lauren Temple, Colm Kealy, Kevin Lloyd and Ian Payne (3am to 5am: what a star!) all put in an appearance to support and chat and keep up morale. Lesley Drew deserves perhaps the most thanks of all, having done all of the ‘invisible’ organising: of hot (initially) chocolate, mars bars and other sustainers of energy, of facilities and of the fundraising website.
Finally, to the participants themselves: not only were they delightful company throughout the evening, they also did a great job of getting sponsorship and got us past our fundraising target. We have ensured funds for hundreds of sight-restoring operations which will change the lives of hundreds of families.
If anyone would like to sponsor us retrospectively, our online giving page is still open: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/shrewsburyallnightsports