Enjoy the final instalment of Ian Parkin’s trip through the history of Mearns Academy…..
Sports and Other Activities and Experiences
As well as on-going classroom experiences, pupils at the school have over the decades benefitted from a wide range of other opportunities including sporting, musical and cultural activities. Additionally, teachers have organised various visits and trips to far flung locations as diverse as Las Vegas and Ghana. Such experiences collectively offer young people a very enriching context and very frequently represent fondest memories of pupil’s time here.
In terms of sport, a range of activities have contributed to the life of the school. Initially in lesson time the focus was on drill and physical training but, particularly since the creation of the house system in 1948, a range of sports including football, hockey, netball, basketball, rugby and athletics have featured in the school calendar. More recently archery has been (very successfully) added to young people’s experiences at the school.
As we approach the move to the new campus one aspect that will be transformed is the quality of facilities to deliver physical education. As far back as 1897 the poor nature of accommodation to promote physical activity was noted: ‘Drill is taught to all the boys but too little physical education is given to the girls. Also the playground is so muddy that military drill taught there is very trying and uncomfortable’.
Indeed the lack of accessible and appropriate sports fields had been a consistent problem right up until 1995 when the current playing fields were opened. Additionally, the current gymnasium for this school was opened in 1937 – now well past its sell-by date!
For many years sports were played in Memorial Park and indeed the annual cross country race went even further afield: Johnston Tower on the Garvick being the target. Jim Smith (captain of the 1956 football team) remembered how not everyone actually got there. Sports Days were for a long time also located in the park but for many years pupils also went by train to participate in Inter School events. A mass exodus to Banchory or Stonehaven took place and Mr George Watson, former teacher, reflected on the sight of hundreds of pupils boarding the train saying: ‘You never saw the like of it’.
Another significant event in the sporting calendar was the pupils versus staff fixtures. It appears these events were highly competitive! The 1961 hockey fixture for example was reported in the school magazine:
‘The staff v pupils match was played again this year with the usual gusto. The staff team were lucky to bulldoze their way to a 1-1 draw – they were helped by having 14 players to our 11’.
Various school teams in different sports have excelled and performed with distinction. Amongst these were the football team winning the Mann Cup in 1937 following a 12-4 victory over South Esk. Similarly in 1956 the school team which won the cup in 1956 beating Kirriemuir in a match played at Glebe Park, Brechin. The aforementioned Jim Smith was a stand out player, ably assisted by his team-mates including a certain J. Soutar (a name more recently linked to football success at school and Dundee United).
During the 1970’s the school had a tremendous history with regards to basketball with both the boys and girls teams winning the Scottish cup. Led by Mr Ian Ridge the teams excelled and the Aberdeen Evening Express heading of 20 February 1977 proudly stated:
Laurencekirk – Country School That’s Tops in Basketball.
Other notable sporting successes have occurred in both rugby and in recent years volleyball.
Of course sport was not the only addition to enhance the experiences of pupils at the school. The school has over time developed a very strong reputation for high quality musical productions. Shows such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar and in 2012 Les Miserables were performed to sell out audiences and through the efforts of Mr Derek Noble were of an extraordinarily high standard. They built on a long tradition of public performances made by pupils including the annual concert. The first of these concerts took place in 1897 where strangely a piano recital featured at an event targeted at raising funds – for a piano. Over the years the range of talent on display has been hugely impressive and is epitomised today by the annual Young Musician of The Year competition.
Other contexts for pupil involvement have included foreign trips (from the 1959 Rhineland visit to annual ski trips to the Alps) and a thriving menu of events on offer during Activities Weeks. The first venture south to Alton Towers in 1995 for example saw some 350 pupils visit the theme park as part of the centenary celebrations. Pupils also benefitted from foreign exchanges to both Germany and France. The latter of these allowed pupils to take part in a long standing link with College Blaise Pascal in Clement Ferrand.
Such positive experiences are something of a contrast to aspects of life endured by pupils and former pupils during the two world wars. During the First World War the Infants Department was commandeered by the military authorities and in response to forced reductions in energy usage the school day was reduced with the school closing daily at 3.00 pm. Most poignantly the log book entry for 7 May 1915 reminds of the sacrifice made by so many local young men:
‘This afternoon, scholars attended the funeral of David Callendar, age 19 – Corporal Gordon Highlanders and a former pupil. He is the fourth to have succumbed the other being W. Slater – died of wounds, S. Blacklaws – killed in action and W. Mony – died in hospital’.
The second son of Mr Laing the headteacher was also killed in action and such tragic events are still today reflected upon in the annual remembrance events.
During the Second World War, as a result of evacuees from Dundee, the school roll climbed to four hundred and ninety which triggered huge problems in accommodation.
Additionally much of the well-loved allotments at the rear of the school were dug up to form trenches as a precaution against air raids. The trenches tended to fill with water and history confirms that very often when the air raid siren went off pupils would simply hide under their desks and hope for the best!