In her series of articles on the commitment to sport of local people, Angela Kelly talks to teacher Barry Leese who has introduced hundreds of children to a massive variety of sports.
INSPIRATIONAL teacher Barry Leese almost missed the “dream job” that has taken him into local primary schools introducing sport to youngsters and changing lives.
“They brought in the first school sports’ co-ordinators in 2000 under the Labour Government,” explains Barry, who is based at St Catherine’s Academy in Bolton.
“It sounded great that they were pumping money into this area. But when the head of Withins, as it was then, offered me the job, I really wasn’t sure – fear of the unknown, I suppose. Then common sense kicked in and I took it, and it’s been everything I hoped.”
Barry, who teaches PE at the £38million state-of-the-art academy on the Breightmet/Harwood border, regularly goes into local primary schools in the St Catherine’s catchment area to run sporting initiatives and competitions there as well as at the academy.
He’s 59 now but has been at the Bolton school for 30 years, “since it first became Withins School, actually,” he adds.
Born and brought up in Oldham (“and I’m still an Oldham lad at heart”), he was always keen on football and cricket and shone at the former. He played for Oldham schoolboys and was on Oldham Athletic’s books as a youngster although he was not offered a deal to play for them.
He always wanted to teach sport and took a teacher-training course in County Durham before teaching in Guildford.
He’s married to Christine, also a teacher and now head of sixth form at St Catherine’s, and they have four children who have also shared Barry’s love of sport.
His role these days is to go into the feeder primary schools, encouraging youngsters to play a variety of sports and get involved in a programme of competitions – “and to ‘sell’ St Catherine’s at the same time,” he states.
The school has had a mixed history and this is not always an easy sell, although Barry says there is a very good take-up rate from most of the primary schools he visits.
“Sometimes, when the dads get a sight of the all-weather outdoor sports surface here at St Catherine’s they want their children to come here straight away,” he laughs.
In fact, he’s delighted the all-weather pitch is busy every lunchtime with dozens of youngsters playing their own games of football and enjoying the fresh air and the school’s amazing facilities.
This pleasure is just part of Barry’s passion surrounding sport and youngsters and the importance of making sport available to them in schools. He firmly believes sport offers all young people the chance to shine.
“By turning schools into exam factories, they are taking away the enjoyment of sport,” he asserts. “Sport can help a youngster who may not be academically bright to be someone.
“I’ve seen it happen time after time – it does wonders for their confidence and self-esteem.”
To get the sporting message out to youngsters, Barry also takes a much wider view of sport than just mainstream.
As a result, he was probably the first teacher to take handball into schools locally, he teaches Gaelic football and promotes Tchoukball – developed by the Swiss and now a worldwide sport – alongside football, rugby and cricket.
“My aim is for any of my pupils to ultimately travel anywhere in the world and be able to enjoy a sport,” he states.
And there’s no doubt hundreds of Barry’s past and present pupils would agree this practical sporting ambassador has given them all a lesson in life.