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2017 Special Olympics GB
As you may well have seen the 2017 Special Olympics GB National Games were held across Sheffield over the week of 7th to 11th August.

One of the sports being run was Carpet Bowls and, spearheaded by Rebecca Hearn of Hertfordshire, we were asked to apply to run the event on behalf of the organisers.

We were located at the Graves Sports & Health Centre, sharing the venue with Tennis, with competitors coming from 5 different delegations representing Scotland Highlands, Scotland Lothian, South East, Northern and Yorkshire & Humberside.

The competition rules were already set by the organisers before we came onboard which meant a little bit of adaptation both on our part and for some of the athletes. Although the rules were mostly familiar to us there were variations taken from Scottish Carpet Bowls.

The games were played on our style of carpets, all of which were supplied by Hertfordshire Carpet Bowls Association, (some of the areas are used to playing on Short mat carpets), but although we had the usual round centre blocks, the rules did not call for blocks at the ends of the carpet through which to bowl, although the competitors still had to bowl through that same boxed area. This meant that judging whether or not a wood was legally bowled could be difficult and for those players who were used to the blocks it sometimes made it difficult for them to judge where to bowl from.

Other little variations included a shot being awarded to each side if the end finished with a wood from each side touching or being equidistant from the jack. And if the jack was taken off the end would be declared dead with no score awarded to either side. Can you imagine what our game would be like if we adopted that rule?

As well as Rebecca we also had able assistance from Martin Jenness, Thomas Ellis and Craig Hearn (who turned up to perform MC duties), all from Hertfordshire, Lavinia and Colin Young from Sunderland, Mike Walker from Bedfordshire and Paul Daniels and Mick Watkins from Suffolk.

Our people were supplemented by a number of volunteers from Sheffield and surrounding areas, who were mostly Crown Green bowlers and none of whom were familiar with Carpet Bowls, but who nonetheless gave sterling support even though they were called upon to man the carpets nearly non-stop.

Tuesday morning was set aside for all the players to practice and familiarise themselves and volunteer training before everyone headed off to the Opening Ceremony at Bramhall Lane. Everyone returned on Wednesday for a full day's bowling in the Singles.

All of the players are rated in order to provide an even playing field as possible for all involved and are put into divisions Levels 1-4 according to their abilities and understanding of the game.

The Level 1 players were more than capable of giving any one of us a good game while at Level 3 & 4 the players are allowed to receive assistance from their coaches to ensure that a legally compliant wood was delivered each time.

For the Singles the Athletes were also divided into Male and Female divisions and were placed in groups ranging from 4 to 7 players.

Play ran from 9.00 until 5.00 and although there was a break for lunch it really was non-stop for the markers, as one game finished another would often be starting almost immediately. The two Mikes’ who were on refereeing and measuring duties were run ragged.

Thursday was a little more sedate as we began the Pairs, some all Male, some all Female and some Mixed, all graded from Levels 1-3. With far fewer games it was a far less hectic schedule, which was a relief to all the Officials and Volunteers after the previous day.

With all of the group games out of the way Friday was the day for Play-Offs in which everyone would compete to decide the final finishing positions, with 1st and 2nd in the Groups playing one another to decide the Gold and Silver medal winners, 3rd and 4th playing off for the Bronze medal, etc.

After that it was time for the awards ceremony, hosted by Craig, with Emmerdale's Kelvin Fletcher and that other well-known Northern celebrity Colin Young handing out the medals and awards. Pleasingly Colin made sure that he wasn't upstaged by a mere actor, by working it out so that he got to award some of the Golds himself.

It's fair to say that all of the games were played in fantastic spirit, even if the emotion of the situation did briefly get the better of one or two of the Athletes on the odd occasion, not to mention spells of play which would put the majority of us to shame.

It was heartening to see the delight on the faces of the players and to hear from the Head Coaches, more than once, that this had been the best organised event they had attended, which is all that we could have hoped for and which made all the hard work and planning more than worthwhile.

Plus we got a couple of requests to provide demonstrations of the game, which was an added bonus for us.

The next games will be in a mere 4 years’ time and from the feedback which everyone received we're sure that we will be back, wherever it's held and we hope that it will be an opportunity for more Carpet Bowlers to volunteer.

We'd like to thank everyone who helped out, particularly Hertfordshire CBA for the use of their equipment and for all the volunteers who were absolutely tireless and without whom this fantastic event would have not been possible.

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