Shrewsbury School

Mr Cooley is National Fives Champion for 11th consecutive year

Thursday 16 September 2021

Seb Cooley, Master i/c Fives, won his 11th Kinnaird Cup alongisde his partner Tom Dunbar. 

Mr Cooley has reflected on his 11 years' of Fives titles while being at Shrewsbury:

I’ve been at Shrewsbury for 10 years: I interviewed weeks before my first Kinnaird title and was holder when I arrived in 2011. Only rarely have I found this of any use at all in the classroom: that when doing a lesson share in the chemistry department on the reactivity series (polishing the trophy; dirtying aluminium foil). I nonetheless have Shrewsbury to thank for helping to keep me at the top of the game for so long (as my physics students know, I am almost as old as Master Yoda, as well as almost as small).

This help has come in myriad forms, not only the flexibility on the part of the School and my heads of department to allow days off teaching to compete in tournaments. It is, for example, simply impossible to grow weary of the sport if one watches, even if only twice a week, Giles H, Elliot M and friends (I, V) on court making sure their ratio of trick shots is over 50%. Likewise complacency is not allowed: having taken a 12-11 victory against me as a 3rd former, James C (SH, LVI) was careful to remind me of it on a frequent basis, noting that he, not I, should hold the title.

On the level of technique (fives is close to cricket for the technical accuracy required to excel), the need to analyse and work with our finest athletes – far better sportsmen and women than I – meant constantly examining my own. Pride necessitates I try to return every cut a school player hits at me: George Panayi (Ch, 2016), Issy Wong (G, 2020) and Digby T-W (I, UVI) amongst others have thereby provided constant and demanding tests of reflexes, and some bruises. Having caused the latter, sometimes they successfully hid their smiles. Well, except Issy. Similarly, working on court positioning with athletes who accelerate as I might have done decades ago and while happily asleep has had made me analyse my own.

Over the years the top school pairs have been very different: we had the wingspan and athleticism of Jack Hudson-Williams (PH, 2012) and Henry Lewis (I, 2012); the explosive single-mindedness of Tom Breese (PH 2016) and George Panayi; the tenacity of Guy Williams (Rb, 2013); the pure ambidexterity of Rory McDonald O’Brien (Port Hill, U6th); the deliberate and considered tactical determination of Peter Clark (Rb, 2020) and even the determined unorthodoxy of Adam Aslam-Baskeyfield (Rb, 2019) who with Dan Orchard (PH, 2019) preceded Peter Clark and Arthur Garrett (Ch, 2020) as a pair of left-handers. Some (e.g. wingspan) were qualities to which I could not aspire but in working out how they could be used – and indeed how pairs might play against them – there were lessons for us all. And each year being different, the sport has been kept “fresh”.

All who watch sport will know that, after technique, tactics and the rest have been stripped away, what a close match does is test and expose the character. Those who were in Shrewsbury on 29th March 2019 will know that what happened on that day meant more to me than all 11 Kinnairds. Against more than four hours of the sternest possible tests, physical and mental, Dan Humes (I, 2019) whose hand speed and reflexes defy biology, and Will Sissons (Rt 2019) who can teleport and exhibit quantum properties, showed every quality to be admired in a person: throughout a ferocious national final they and their opponents showed each other nothing but the greatest respect and diplomacy, all the while refereeing their own game. Under the utmost pressure. They had also been the first school pair to beat me in a one-off competitive match in their build-up to the national championships. Since many years before I arrived, indeed before I took up the sport, Salopian fives players have prided themselves on integrity and sincerity on court beneath the fierce competitiveness; I hope to have managed to maintain this tradition within the school’s players and in my own game.

It is impossible to teach without learning. Train hard, play easy! Across the decade I am enormously grateful to Shrewsbury for giving me the chance to learn so much about the game.

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