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Carolyn out to net a new generation of sporting champions
British sport is on something of a roll at present.
The Olympics team had its best games for almost a century, a British tennis player reached the final of the American grand slam tennis open, English cricketers won a near one-day whitewash against South Africa – and even the England soccer team has a realistic hope of qualifying for the next World Cup.
This, however, is sport at a national level.
At a local level, where the seed corn is sown to produce the future crops of would-be champions, there is a mega-problem: how to lure youngsters away from their computer screens and video games and get them out onto the playing field in the first place.
This is a challenge being taken up with enthusiasm in many sports here in Craven and there are few more enthusiastic than Carolyn Butt, one-time PE teacher and life-long tennis nut, who has spent much of her life sorting the sporting wheat from the chaff at Craven Lawn Tennis Club, at Gargrave.
“It is essential that clubs like ours provide the framework to get young people into enjoying both the challenge and the ambience of sport and the social life that goes with it,” she told me with some passion at her Rylstone home. “And that is particularly true today when youngsters have so many electronic gadgets to keep them occupied.”
This is a theme which crops up time and time again these days. The image of overweight youngsters stuffing themselves with crisps and fizzy drinks locked away in their bedrooms to communicate with other human beings only in hyperspace is one which haunts thousands of teachers, doctors and parents.
Even politicians are muscling in on the “sport for all” act, no doubt trying to grab some of the reflected glory of Team GB at the Beijing Olympics and the looming challenge of the London games in 2012. However, Carolyn Butt, who was taken to the Gargrave club at the age of 10 by her sports-mad father, has devoted a lifetime to getting youngsters off their backsides and out onto the playing field.
The daughter of Brian Walker, a Skipton solicitor, she went to the former St Monica’s Convent School in Water Street and then – already committed to tennis, swimming, netball and horse riding – went off to a training college in Bedford which specialised in turning out PE teachers.
That was followed by a year at Cambridge, where she took an unusual degree in PE and biology, before starting her career at a rather posh girls’ boarding school where the pupils, she says, were much more interested in finding a husband than sport. That was followed by three years at Harrogate Grammar School – with superb sports facilities and a PE staff of no fewer than six teachers.
By this time, she had met husband-to-be Andrew Butt, another sports nut – cricket, tennis and fly fishing – and they had two children, Sarah and Christopher. As one would expect, they still play mixed doubles together at Gargrave, some 45 years after Carolyn joined.
After the children started school, she went back to work as a supply teacher at Skipton Girls’ High School and Aireville, with stints at towns in West Yorkshire, but being a part-timer gave her more time to devote to the tennis club, first as a coach, then as a committee member.
As the centenary approaches, it seems in pretty good fettle, with 100 junior players, 40 family memberships and two coaches bringing on the youngsters. But Carolyn would still like to see more young people taking up tennis.
“It is a wonderful game, both as a sport and as a centre for social life,” she said. “Clubs like ours have a duty to spot and bring on new talent. Who knows, we might find a future champion.”
The success of Scottish star Andy Murray at the highest level has given tennis something of a bounce. But – and I enjoyed this – I was able to feed Carolyn a succulent titbit of tennis news which she had not heard because she had just returned from a holiday in Portugal.
This was that the Dutch-based insurance multi-national AEGON had just become a lead sponsor for British tennis in a five year sponsorship deal which could be worth £30 million. Better still, much of that massive fund will be aimed at bringing on youngsters via small clubs and even players who hire courts in their municipal parks.
At this news, Carolyn’s eyes lit up like lasers. She is an enthusiast’s enthusiast, a lady eager to seize any benefit on offer for the sport she loves.
As I drove out of her drive, I could see her through the window, crouched over her computer, looking up the AEGON bid on the internet.
There will be a long queue for that cash – but make no mistake, Craven Lawn Tennis Club will be up at the front.
Who knows, one year there might be a Yorkshire tennis player going into a grand slam final. After all, Craven has just gained a gold medal-winning oarsman. But we need people like Carolyn Butt to spot the future stars.