Three sports but one destination for brilliant Bourne girls

SPORTING SISTERS: Badminton player Megan Hassall, taekwondo fighter Francesca Gardner and her younger sister, cricketer Amelia Gardner outside Bourne Grammar School.  Photo by Tim Wilson.
SPORTING SISTERS: Badminton player Megan Hassall, taekwondo fighter Francesca Gardner and her younger sister, cricketer Amelia Gardner outside Bourne Grammar School. Photo by Tim Wilson.
  • Amelia, Francesca and Megan are destined to keep Bourne’s sporting flag flying high
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Bourne Grammar School has had a lot of sporting success recently for Megan Hassall (14) and sisters Amelia (14) and Francesca Gardner (15) to live up to.

In January, the schoool’s under-14 netballers reached the regional finals of the National Schools Netball competition for the first time ever, while their athletes completed a clean sweep of all eight south Lincolnshire schools cross country titles.

But even higher standards were set by Maddie Gammons (15) who was crowned National Trophy under-16 girls cyclo-cross series champion in January and outstanding ex-student Claire Steels (28) who became women’s age group (25-29) world sprint duathlon champion in Adelaide, Australia last weekend.

So it should be no surprise to find three more prospects from the school’s engine room of sporting talent making waves in their chosen disciplines.

Netballer, taekwondo player, footballer and cricketer Amelia Gardner, along with older sister and full-time taekwondo player Francesca after winning a silver medal in the junior girls’ coloured belt sparring event at the Unified World Taekwondo Championships in London three months ago.

But perhaps badminton prodigy Megan, the quietest but undoubtedly the most decorated of the trio, is the one giving cause for most excitement amongst talent spotters and coaches with Badminton England.

DEMON BOWLER: Amelia Gardner in action for Spalding 3rds.  Photo by Tim Wilson.

DEMON BOWLER: Amelia Gardner in action for Spalding 3rds. Photo by Tim Wilson.

Anthony Graves, PE teacher at Bourne Grammar School, said: “It’s a credit to Amelia, Francesca and Megan that they can compete at such a high level whilst all three of them are also in the top ten per cent of our students academically.”

Megan has won at least 12 singles and doubles titles in the last three years, including an unprecedented sweep of under-13, under-15 and under-17 county singles titles last year.

“Badminton was just a hobby to me for a long time until I got more involved at county level about two years ago,” Megan said.

“I also started working with a new coach who used to play for England and wiith whom I get on so well that he’s like a second dad to me.

It’s a credit to Amelia, Francesca and Megan that they can compete at such a high level whilst all three of them are also in the top ten per cent of our students academically.

Anthony Graves, PE teacher, Bourne Grammar School

“Since then, I’ve started taking the sport more seriously, learning more about what my strengths are on court, getting better technically and working out my opponent’s game better.”

Amelia led by example from her position at centre when captaining the under-14 netballers who just missed out on a place in the semi-finals of the East Midlands eliminator for the National Schools Netball Competition.

“I’ve always been interested in doing lots of things and if I’m not doing something, I get really bored,” Amelia said.

“So I took up lots of sports when I was at primary school, including a football skills course for girls run by Peterborough United Football Club.

“But after watching the film The Karate Kid with my sister Francesca, we both decided to learn a martial art as a way of letting out our anger.”

The Gardner sisters trained under coach Richard Auciello at Stamford Taekwondo Club where they first made their mark when Amelia won gold and Francesca bronze at the Unified English Taekwondo Championships in 2013.

Francesca said: “At primary school, I was involved in quite a lot of sports.

“But when I got to secondary school, I gave up a lot of them for taekwondo because it combines discipline, Korean culture, self-defence and fitness.

“I was even more interested in sport’s customs and Stamford Taekwondo Club were really good at teaching us that.

“So when Amelia was in Year 7 and I was in Year 8, we started fighting each other and we were very competitive.”

DOUBLES TOPS: Megan Hassall (right) and Megan Dibble capture the Lincolnshire under-13 girls doubles badminton title in Lincoln.

DOUBLES TOPS: Megan Hassall (right) and Megan Dibble capture the Lincolnshire under-13 girls doubles badminton title in Lincoln.

Meanwhile, Megan was making a name for herself on the badminton court by winning both the under-11 girls’ singles and doubles titles at the 2012 Lincolnshire Badminton Championships.

A relatively moderate return, by her standards, came in 2013 when she only won the under-13 county girls’ doubles title with playing partner Megan Dibble of Scunthorpe, along with runners-up placings in the under-13 girls’ singles and mixed doubles finals.

Megan said: “My sister Kate has always played badminton and because it looked quite competitive, I wanted to be like her and play.

“I started when I was eight and for the first few years, I played tennis as well.

“But then I had to pick one of them and I went for badminton because I enjoyed it more when I was on the court and I didn’t have the same motivation for tennis.

“Then last year, I won all three county age group titles because I had that extra bit of motivation and I think that I wanted it more than my opponents.”

Over the same period, Amelia and Francesca had their first taste of international competition at the 2013 Unified World Taekwondo Championships in Coventry, taking silver and bronze respectively.

They had to fight each other in the semi-finals of the under-16 yellow belt category, with Amelia coming out on top before losing to a Russian fighter who was three years older and ten centimetres taller than her.

Francesca said: “I got really nervous before my fights, as I still do now, but something changed when I got on the mat.

“I didn’t think I was capable of achieving anything at world level before 2013, but my instructors were so encouraging and I also had Amelia without whom I I don’t think I’d have got as far in the sport as we did.”

Amelia added: “We’re each other’s biggest fans and we’re very complimentary about each other.

“But deep down, there’s also that sisterly rivalry and very much of a healthy competition between us.”

In April, the sisters even had time to star together in Bourne Grammar School’s production of Hairspray before a seemingly permanent parting of the ways in a sporting sense.

Because while Francesca claimed silver in the junior girls coloured belt sparring event at this year’s World Taekwondo Championships in London, Amelia was hitting the headlines and wickets after a devastating spell of 5-25 off six over for Spalding 3rds against Claypole.

Amelia said: “I was thrown the ball after my friend went for 20 runs off his over before mine.

“My dad said ‘If you go for less than eight an over, I’ll be proud and if you get a wicket, I’ll be very proud’.

“I was absolutely terrified but the ball started to do a lot for me and I got a wicket in my first season playing season cricket.

“That was when the team started to accept me as a player and after that, I just wanted to do well for them.

“Cricket is my sport now after giving up taekwondo, netball and football at the end of last year.

“Every thing about cricket brings a smile to my face and so this season, I want to learn more by going to the nets with my dad to work on my batting.”

Francesca’s aims are to qualify for more world championships, move up the belt colour ladder and ultimately become a black belt.

As for Megan, what could possibly follow the addition of four county titles (under-15 girls’ singles and doubles, under-17 girls and mixed doubles) in 2015?

“One of the best parts about badminton is making new friends and I’ve got to know lots of people since taking up the sport,” Megan said.

“But I definitely think that I’m capable of getting to a level where I can play for England.”

Mr Graves said: “To know that Amelia, Francesca and Megan are competing to such an exceptional level, while at a school that demands a lot from them academically and where they have a lot of pressure on them because the standards are so high, is fantastic.”

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