The History of the Ball Cup

One such was King Edward VI School, Stratford-Upon-Avon, following the appointment in 1926 of Geoffrey Riddle, late of Bedford School and Cambridge. KES rowing was integrated with the town club and flourished until Riddle’s departure to the City of London School in 1931. Robin Walpole was appointed as successor and developed the school club through the difficult pre-war years.

Coinciding with this era was the interest of the Ball family, engineering and foundry proprietors in the city. Frank Ball’s son Vernon was a pupil and boat club member in the early 1930s, when all concerned realised that no matter how the smaller school clubs persevered, they could never be a competitive match for the public school giants.

Frank Ball presented a challenge trophy, to be competed for by schools ‘with less than 40 members’ on an annual basis. Boats would be, typically, coxed sweep-oared fours of the then clinker built construction. Boat transport was virtually unheard of, and visiting competitors shared the boats of the host club. The Ball Cup competition was first held in 1934, suitably and appropriately won by KES, and until the war alternated between Stratford and Derby. Heresay reports that on one occasion it moved to Bedford, and in 1939 a Junior Cup was added by the Ball Family to cater for second fours.

During the war years KES rowed on, and venues rotated between Stratford, Nottingham and Oundle, the latter dominating throughout. The Evesham venue was added through Prince Henry’s GS immediately post-war, and following the successful Walpole era Douglas Tuckey was appointed in 1950 to manage KES boats. Tuckey expanded the competition and Peterborough, Hereford and Bewdley joined during the next few years. Some 12-20 schools were now competing annually for the Ball Trophies.

The era of the following 25 years or so epitomised the ethos of The Ball Cup ; competition standards were consistent and fair, and an atmosphere of friendly rivalry and sportsmanship prevailed. To compensate first round losers for a fruitless journey, Stratford Boat Club presented Plate trophies in 1968, thus guaranteeing every crew at least two rows. A milestone entry was that of Henley-In-Arden High School, who had started rowing in 1963 under Bill Collins, as the first non-selective school to compete. Henley were destined to win the event in 1972 at Bewdley.
Mike Taylor took over at KES in 1967 and was overseer of the enthusiastically supported event until his retirement. During the late 1960s and 1970s Derby School and later Sir Thomas Rich’s established a near stranglehold on the silverware, annually pressed by the likes of Prince Henry’s, King Charles 1, KES and Becket.

Hereford Cathedral and Belmont Abbey were also prominent, the latter dominating several times as Royal Grammar, High Wycombe entered their ascendancy. To be admired throughout this period were schools such as Cokethorpe, Witney, who seldom won, but competed with great enthusiasm and dignity, and for whom The Ball was a yearly highlight. Applause was also generous for the partially sighted crews of the then named Worcester College for the Blind.

Venues had rippled outwards, and from Peterborough in the east to the Gloucester canal in the west, boating King’s Gloucester and Wycliffe, The Ball entered its fourth decade. Radical changes hovered however, and in the eighties girls entered the fray! Traditionalists had no time, thankfully, to draw breath, because sculling was suddenly upon us. Although The Ball was always an invitation event, the commonsense edicts emanating from the ARA regarding the possible dangers of sweep-oaring to the young held sway, and a new structure emerged.

Cometh the hour, and Wycliffe College, later to become Wycliffe Sculling Centre, hosted the event and defined a points system whereby over 20 age group events, sculling and sweep, boys and girls, defined the competition. Frank Ball’s Challenge had become a regatta!

Vernon Ball never lost his enthusiasm for rowing in general, his event in particular, and was always present with his wife on Ball Cup Wednesdays. Mrs Ball attended regularly after Vernon passed on, and still graciously and avidly receives photographs and news over tea at her retirement home in Birmingham.

In spite of the Ball’s popularity throughout half of the 1900s, dark shadows were to intrude as the millennium approached. The National Curriculum and Performance League tables dominated all; Wednesdays became vital to exam results, and teachers’ energies became drained. Demise threatened.