St Malachy's College students using the power of sport to break down barriers
IN the age of ‘Brexit’ and a growing sense of racial and ethnic tension, a group of St Malachy’s College students are leading the way with a unique sports project that is aimed to “encourage tolerance and understanding among primary school children of different backgrounds” and foster a better link between primary and secondary education.
St Malachy's students Paddy Burns, Ronan Gribbin, Conall Finnegan, Matthew Mulholland and Aidan McGeown will use the medium of football to get their message across.
As part of their A Level sports science class, the five students will host a soccer competition with a difference - entitled the St Malachy’s Cup - at the school’s grounds on the Antrim Road and at the Girdwood Community hub adjacent to the school tomorrow.
Sixteen primary schools from across the religious and ethnic spectrum will descend on St Malachy’s tomorrow morning for a student-led event that has attracted the likes of Cliftonville’s record-breaking goalscorer Joe Gormley and Sport NI head Antoinette McKeown.
Burns, who is on Glenavon’s books, explained their soccer event soon morphed into something more important than simply gaining a good grade at the end of the year.
“In the past there hasn’t been an event that incorporated primary schools, so we discussed it and thought it would be a way of improving the link between secondary and primary education,” said Burns, head boy at St Malachy's.
“We thought it would be great to host something where we utilised primary schools and we wanted it to be cross-community simply to try and promote tolerance and understanding among the younger generation and to mix people from different schools and different ethnicities.”
The five students could have organised a project in-house and used the college’s first years to run the tournament - but they aimed bigger and after many hours of meticulous preparation their big day arrives tomorrow morning.
Burns added: “I would love the P7s who are taking part to come away with the main message that we’re totally inclusive, first and foremost, and hopefully they’ll see that at the event, and to have a good idea what St Malachy’s is like.
“Obviously all the P7s have been working extremely hard on the transfer test. Now that that’s over we want to provide them with a reward and a break from school and enjoy the environment and have fun. We want to advertise the importance of teamwork and working together.”
At lunch-time, pupils from different schools will be mixed with ‘ice-breaker’ sessions and Burns will deliver a speech articulating the objectives of the event.
The students created a Facebook page and also sought sponsorship for their event, with THAMI – a charity that promotes positive mental fitness through sport – providing the whistles and footballs and St Malachy’s OB FC paying for the prizes.
The IFA provided referee training for students last month who will officiate at the games while they also underwent a child protection course ahead of tomorrow’s event.
Joe Gormley will be on hand for the prize-giving ceremony and Antoinette McKeown will address the audience.
“We could have gone with an easy event where we could have got our first years out of class and we still could have scored very highly but we genuinely wanted to meet the aims and objectives that we set. We knew it would take a lot of effort,” said Burns.
"We aim to inspire and motivate the younger generation but more importantly encourage tolerance and understanding amongst them and give them the opportunity to mix with people from different schools, backgrounds and ethnicities, in an enjoyable, fun and active environment."
The cynic might say the event taking place in St Malachy's College tomorrow is a mere drop in the ocean. But the ocean is made up of many drops.
In tackling prejudice and opening up a new world to primary school children, rather than attending the oft-time stuffy open nights, Burns, Gribbin, Finnegan, Mulholland and McGeown are making a difference on so many levels.