Splashing tales from British watersports have won both categories of the 2021 Football School/Guardian Young Sportswriter of the Year award.
James Sarfas, age nine and from Reading, Berkshire, won the category for children aged from seven to nine for an article about the gold-medal exploits of Tom Daley and Matty Lee at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, while Isla Trude Callard, age 12 and from York, was judged best in the age 10-12 category for an emotive celebration of the Paralympic swimmer Ellie Simmonds.
The judges for the award, now in its third year, included the former England rugby player Catherine Spencer, the cyclist Tao Geoghegan Hart, the golfer Ian Poulter, the former England striker Rachel Yankey, the former Germany defender Per Mertesacker, the Olympic and world 400m gold medallist Christine Ohuruogu, the Arsenal defender Lotte Wubben-Moy, and the England cricketer Jack Leach. The latter was the subject of a winning entry last year.
The competition asked entrants to write a story of up to 600 words about a sports event or an athlete. The prize for each of the winners includes having their article published by the paper and having a writing workshop at their school with a Guardian sportswriter.
The judges were full of praise for the contestants: “I can’t actually believe these pieces were written by [people in] those age groups. It’s incredible,” said Poulter. Catherine Spencer said of Safras’s story: “I could picture the scene and felt like I was there. It was a great balance between evoking emotion and delivering the facts.” Of Callard’s piece she added: “The article captures what sport is about to me; it inspired me and reminded me why I love sport.”
The final shortlist included stories on cricket, mountain-climbing, tennis and lacrosse. Samuel Mitting, who wrote about the Tour de France, was the runner-up in the age seven to nine category while Alex Raeburn, who wrote about Tom Daley, took the same spot for the age 10-12 award.
Marcus Christenson, the Guardian’s football special projects editor, said: “Young people have an extraordinary capacity to tell it how it is – and do it in a very infectious way. The pieces from our two winners are perfect examples of that, but they weren’t the only ones to shine. The overall quality of the young writers was heartening to see.”
Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton, authors of the Football School book series, added: “The quality of writing in this year’s competition was outstanding. We were bowled over by the passion of each writer. The future of sportswriting looks very exciting!”
The Football School/Guardian Young Sportswriter of the Year award will be held again next year.