Rutland Fives on the Up, Up, Uppingham

Howard Wiseman reports:

03/11/17: At the recent Uppingham 150th Fives celebration dinner, I was seated with the eight keen young Fives players who are spearheading the recovery of Eton Fives at Uppingham school, supported by various keen Uppingham staff (led by James Holroyd), and by the Old Uppinghamians (led by Nick Preston).

You could not wish for a keener of more dedicated bunch of wonderful youngsters. As a result, I had promised that I would pay them a visit and give them a workshop...

I bumped into them all again a few weeks ago at the Midlands Schools Fives Festival held at Shrewsbury school, and was reminded of my promise. Their wonderful Master in charge, James Holroyd, set the date the following day.

On the way to Uppingham, I called in to have a look at the Oakham courts. They were in superb condition and were very clean. To my delight, there was a class in session. I introduced myself and was immediately handed the class to entertain for the remaining 20 minutes. We had a lot of fun, as we immediately launched into a fast and furious "volleying challenge" into the buttress. This was a small group of six girls and two boys, but they were very keen. There is apparently a much larger and quite devoted group who play earlier in the week, and the adult club night lead by Ed Wass continues to thrive on Monday evenings. So, that was a really enjoyable and encouraging start to my trip!

On arrival at Uppingham, I was delighted to find the courts open, very clean, and all ready for action. Furthermore, putting on her gloves in readiness for an early practice, was a member of staff from the music department who has been playing for just six weeks. She and I had a knock around for almost half an hour. Very keen and very well strategically placed in the Brooklands House (which has two beautiful but under-utilised courts), this budding new fives player will almost certainly prove to be a great asset to Uppingham Fives going forwards.

Very much on time, the expected trickle of a few new girls and boys from this year's intake, began. Wonderfully, the trickle turned into a torrent, and to the amazement of the three staff members who were by now present, over thirty girls and boys appeared - roughly an equal number of girls to boys. James Birch, my new music teacher friend, and two of the established and very strong female fives players from the school, were my four team leaders. All four courts remained overflowing with frenetic and excited activity, as they worked through a series of 8 minute "challenges" to try and outdo the other teams with higher score totals from the timed exercises.

The girls and boys all seemed riveted to what they were doing and showed a great deal of talent. The shutters/windows had been opened so that all passers-by could see the activity that matched the excited noise coming from within the court complex. This session alone seemed to break open awareness about the Fives and what it is.... The pioneering middle-school eight were also so excited to witness the courts bursting with activity.

After dinner, the second session took place for the established team of eight  school players. They worked hard and were worked hard!! For a solid hour and a half, "challenge" followed "challenge", until we were able to fluently string together exercises that brought together "Attack", "Defend", "Retrieve" and a whole array of pre-meditated targets around the whole court. I have rarely seen more enthusiasm, dedication and obvious excitement from what was being achieved on court than with the Uppingham pupils on this visit. It is clear to see that Fives has the potential to attract large numbers of girls and boys, and for them to all benefit from enjoying a great sport together; both socially, in training and as a team.

I am most grateful to the pupils and Housemaster from School House who looked after me at dinner time! Uppingham is the most beautiful location, and the school is always so hospitable. Any clubs and teams should consider a friendly fixture at Uppingham on a weekend against the School (and staff combined potentially). It would be a most rewarding and worthwhile trip. Players from the Oakham club night may well wish to join you to create a Festival-type mix-around fixture. Simply contact James Holroyd at the school if you are interested.

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