THE games are afoot!
More than 1,600 young people from schools across South Yorkshire are doing battle in a major event fuelled by 2012 Olympic fever.
Sheffield’s English Institute of Sport is the venue for the first ever South Yorkshire School Games, kicking off an initiative which is due to grow over the next three years and beyond.
The Winter Games are featuring youngsters aged seven to 18 from dozens of schools competing in seven sports - athletics, netball, basketball, gymnastics, boccia, new age curling and cheerleading - with plans already under way for a similar Summer Games in July.
VIPs were out in force yesterday to give the games their blessing - including top Premier League and World Cup final referee Howard Webb.
Mr Webb said: “Anything that can get so many young people taking part in sport like this just has to be a terrific idea.
“The children are going to feel really special competing in such a special venue as this and who knows - we could be seeing some of the Olympic stars for 2020 in action here today.”
Rotherham Olympian Peter Elliott said the two-day festival at EIS coupled with the excitement of the London games could inspire a whole new generation of South Yorkshire champions.
He said: “There’s a fabulous atmosphere.
“The youngsters are competing on the home track of Jessica Ennis and it’s bound to give them the real buzz of a top event.’’
Diane McKinlay, headteacher at Sheffield’s Forge Valley Community College, helped set up the games as chairman of the Local Organising Committee.
She said: “We’ve been working very hard since October and the young people have qualified for the finals after a series of events at school level.
“They have been very enthusiastic and are becoming more and more engaged by the coming Olympics.
“I think it is something that is going to grow year by year.”
Kristie Richards, one of the organisers, said some of the competitors had gone through three qualifying phases to reach the EIS finals.
She said: “Standards here today are very high and there will be fierce competition for all the titles. I’m expecting the games to have a really positive effect on sport in the region with more young people wanting to join sports clubs.”