State school sets up rowing club to rid sport of elitist image

Falcon Rowing Club’s Anna McCrae, Alexandra Waring, Matt Timms, Alice Roberts and Chris Headland in action

Falcon Rowing Club’s Anna McCrae, Alexandra Waring, Matt Timms, Alice Roberts and Chris Headland in action

First published in Oxford Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by

PUPILS from an Oxford school are blowing the “elitist” rowing club ster- eotype out of the water.

Cheney School in Headington, says it has started the county’s first state school rowing club – and now they want others to take the plunge.

In April last year, pupils were invited to attend a talk by world champion rowers Peter Haining and Mark Hunter.

Within weeks, 53 pupils trialled for 25 places on a short Learn to Row course under Mr Haining’s guidance.

And in September, Cheney Falcon, Oxford’s first state school rowing club, was born.

Mr Haining, 50, a three time-lightweight world champion single sculler, is now coaching the Cheney rowers.

He said: “I went to state school and the reason I am a rower is because my woodwork teacher started a team.

“Cheney Falcon is an awesome story. We planted an acorn and it grew like a shot! I can see Olympians coming from Cheney one day.”

Cheney Falcon is the brainchild of Oxford mum-of-two, Zena Forster.

Mrs Forster, 46, said: “I started rowing just for fun in my 40s with a group of other mums at the city’s Falcon Rowing Club. When our children started going to Cheney School I thought ‘Let’s try to get them involved too’.”

Now running weekly on-the-water sessions for around 25 rowers aged eight-11 and indoor sessions for another 40 in the school gym, Cheney Falcon are building strong squads, and winning medals.

Mrs Forster said: “We applied for and got Lottery funding and some other grants and mostly thanks to support from parents, volunteer coaches from Headington Girls School and Brookes University, as well as Falcon, we managed to get a bunch of very excited kids training and into the water.”

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Within three months of starting, Cheney Falcon raced at Monmouth in Wales and, in March, 20 youngsters were the overall winners at the Junior National Indoor Rowing Championships in Enfield.

Matt Timms, 14, from Oxford, said: “Rowing was never even on my radar until I went along to the talk by Peter.”

Alice Roberts, 14, said: “I never thought I would have been able to become a rower – it always seemed too expensive. But now it has me hooked.”

Mr Haining said there were 12 state schools in the country with rowing clubs, compared to 80 private schools.

* To help Cheney Falcon raise money visit

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