On top of the world: the Yorkshire school that keeps turning out superstars

Jessica Ennis-Hill celebrates with her gold medal during the presentation ceremony for the women's heptathlon at the World Championships in China. Photo: PA.
Jessica Ennis-Hill celebrates with her gold medal during the presentation ceremony for the women's heptathlon at the World Championships in China. Photo: PA.
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The achievements of Jessica Ennis-Hill and Joe Root were cause for a double celebration at one of the region’s schools. Grant Woodward reports.

COUNTING one world-beater among their former pupils would be reason enough for most schools to pop the champagne corks. However, a remarkable weekend ended with a Yorkshire school able to boast no fewer than two sporting superstars at the very peak of their powers.

First Jessica Ennis-Hill completed the mother of all comebacks by winning heptathlon gold in the World Athletics Championships in Beijing – her triumph coming less than a year after she gave birth to her first child.

Then, just a few hours later, Joe Root was toasting an Ashes win over Australia and the clinching of the prestigious Compton-Miller Medal, awarded to the player of the series.

It represented an extraordinary double whammy for King Ecgbert School, situated in the Sheffield suburb of Dore, which the celebrated pair both attended. Its headteacher Lesley Bowes spent Sunday following the former pupils’ progress via “patchy wifi” while on holiday in Italy.

“It really is amazing,” she said, reflecting on the school’s twin claim to fame. “We are thrilled for both of them. I thought Jess’s performance was extraordinary, particularly after returning so quickly after the birth of Reggie.

“Obviously Joe and Jess were five years apart in terms of their time in school but nevertheless it’s a source of great pride that they are still part of our school community even now.”

She described 24-year-old Root, England’s leading run-scorer in this summer’s unexpected Ashes triumph, and Ennis-Hill, 29, as “model students” during their time at King Ecgbert’s, when their talents blossomed both in the classroom and on the sports field.

Peter Maw, Root’s former cricket master, recalled that the star batsman stood out even at the age of 12 because of his mental approach. “He had a feeling for the game that you rarely saw in adults, let alone kids,” he said. “He could just read the game.”

The England vice captain also played for the school’s football team but left at 15 to go to Worksop College on a cricket scholarship.

Nevertheless, he has never forgotten King Ecgbert’s and his Yorkshire and England shirts are alongside Ennis-Hill’s athletics vests on the school’s “wall of fame”.

Root was back at King Ecgbert’s this summer in the wake of England’s victory in the first Ashes Test, coaching pupils and signing autographs as he filmed a segment for Sky Sports.

“He was just as he appears – a delightful young man,” said deputy headteacher Jackie Arundale. “He was happy to give the children as much time as they wanted.”

The school celebrated Ennis-Hill’s gold medal at the London Olympics by re-dedicating their sports hall to her. And her first public appearance following her son’s birth was to hand out prizes at the school’s annual sports awards evening.

“We kept it a secret from the children and sneaked her in through the back of the sports hall,” recalled Arundale. “It was a tremendous thrill to have her here.”

Lesley Bowes said the pair’s achievements had provided her with plenty of material to motivate staff and students alike when they return to lessons in a week’s time.

And she promised that the school’s conveyor belt of sporting talent shows no signs of slowing down.

As well as a highly successful cricket team, the school boasts a hugely promising female footballer who is training with the FA Academy.

Another is competing in athletics at national level with girls a year older than her, having been inspired by a meeting with Jessica Ennis-Hill a couple of years ago.

“There are a number who we think could become household names,” said the headteacher. “Let’s just say watch this space.”