Lavant House girls give ancient sport new lease of life

Jessica Breach, 15, and Bronte Popplewell, 14, batting at Lavant House  Picture by Kate Shemilt C130886-3
Jessica Breach, 15, and Bronte Popplewell, 14, batting at Lavant House Picture by Kate Shemilt C130886-3

Pupils at Lavant House School have added another sport to their already-impressive line up and, having now won two local tournaments, are certainly pleased they did.

The ancient game of stoolball has become Lavant’s new interest, which is fitting given that it originated in Sussex in the 15th century, when it was traditionally played by milkmaids using their milking stools as wickets.

Often thought of as the ancestor of cricket, baseball and rounders, stoolball is played on grass with an 82m diameter boundary and a 15m long pitch.

Lavant House PE teacher Claire Cobden explained how the game works: “Each team has 11 players and, like the other better-known ball games, one side fields while the other side bats.

“Bowling is done underarm from a ‘crease’ which is just over nine metres from the batsman’s wicket. Each over features eight balls and the wicket is a square piece of wood at head or shoulder height on a post.

“The bowler attempts to hit the wicket with the ball while the person in bat defends it using a bat shaped a bit like a frying pan.

“The batsman scores runs by running between the wickets or hitting the ball beyond the boundary for a four or six, just like in cricket. Fielders try to stump or catch the batsman out.”

“Lavant’s sportswomen were looking for a new challenge beyond their usual netball, hockey, rounders, tennis, athletics and swimming so I thought it might be fun to look to our local area’s past and unearth the rule book for this unusual game. The girls have taken up the challenge very enthusiastically and are happy we are helping to keep the game alive where it all began.

“Stoolball uses many skills required for other ball games so it’s a great way for the girls to practise these skills but in a different environment.”

And it certainly seems to have paid off. Lavant’s under-13, 14 and 15 teams have won the first two tournaments they’ve played in, including the West Sussex West competition at The Regis School, which they won despite having only picked up a stoolball bat four weeks before they entered the league.

Team captain Georgina Cranfield is pleased the team have been doing so well so quickly.

She said, “I think our skills at other similar sports have helped the transition to stoolball and our passion for it means practising isn’t a chore.”

Fellow team member Phoebe McCall added: “Apparently the sport died out completely in the 1960s and has been slowly growing in popularity over the past few years. We’re very happy here at Lavant to help with that renaissance in a small way.”

As winners of the WSW tournament, Lavant House qualified to represent the region in the Sussex School Games summer finals at the K2 arena in Crawley this week.