As a philosopher, Andrew Dalton is best known for sitting in his classroom in a comfy chair and looking wise. “I sometimes worry that people will see through me,” he says. “Then I would be the invisible man and that would be cool.”
I wondered if Mr Dalton would miss anything about the School when he retires at the end of this term. “I will miss the amazingly lovely students I have met through running the badminton club,” Mr Dalton said with a wistful look in his eye.
There are some high profile sports at Shrewsbury. The cricketers are having a good season and it’s difficult to miss them as their pitch is right in the middle of the School. They are attracting big crowds through their fine performances, but the bank that surrounds the 1st XI pitch is also the perfect place on a sunny day to enjoy an ice-cream, purchased from the adjacent school shop, whilst chatting to one’s friends.
A long-time retired colleague (he’s 99), recently told me that he really enjoys eating ice-cream whilst chatting to his friends. “I really like eating ice-cream whilst talking to my friends,” Mr Whippy said. Other members of the community like the ice-cream and the cricket. “I think both are really cool,” said Mr Shantry.
The Badminton Club is possibly not so high profile, as it tends to be played in the gym which is where people go to exercise or take exams but not generally to enjoy ice-cream. Captain of the Girls’ Badminton Team, Linda Zhao, told me that she thinks not being able to buy ice-cream in the gym has kept spectators away. “Not being able to eat ice-cream whilst watching badminton has led to less support for us,” she told me. Fiona Lim was very frustrated by the lack of ice-cream eating opportunities. “It has been frustrating at times,” she told me.
Mr Dalton started the Badminton Club when he arrived. “I wanted to leave a lasting legacy at Shrewsbury School and I quickly ascertained that there was no Badminton. I felt I could correct this situation by starting a Badminton Club.” Mr Dalton does not offer much court advice. “I am no lawyer,” he tells me.
There is a coach from Telford known as Kirsty as that is her name. “Kirsty is a very good coach,” Keita Nakumura informs me. “I have learnt a lot from her; I know that she comes from Telford and that Telford is near Shrewsbury.”
Mr Dalton suddenly gets very passionate and tells me that Badminton has never been cancelled. “I am always there for my Badminton players,” he tells me. “If it rains I am here, if it snows I am here, if it hails I am here, if there is strong wind, I am here. Nothing will stop Badminton practice.”
He has called a practice session to emphasise his point. We meet up at the Gym, where I notice it is set out for exams.
“I am very flexible in my approach to this sport. It is important that there is always a chance to lift a racquet in anger, especially at this time of year when the boys and girls need to let off steam before and after exams.”
I notice that it will be difficult to play a proper game owing to the desks and the fact that an exam is due to start in a few minutes’ time.
A very perky Mr Hughes arrives in high spirits. “I love invigilation,” he tells me. He also has nothing but admiration for Mr Dalton’s determination to offer Badminton even when the gym is apparently being put to other uses. “I have nothing but admiration for Mr Dalton,” he tells me. “Any teacher who is prepared to offer sport in difficult circumstances has my admiration.” Mr Hughes is a PE teacher.
Once the practice has finished and the net has been put away, I wonder if Mr Dalton was conscious of his Christ-like pose whilst holding the net. “As an RS/PT teacher, I am always thinking of my next lesson. I think when you are as dedicated to the job as I am, you subliminally live and breathe the subject. And yes, it can be exhibited physically at times without me even thinking about it.”
I guide him back to this year’s team and squad. “Girls’ captain Linda Zhao has been playing for four years. Her banter is much stronger now and she can hit the shuttlecock. I ask her team mates is she is any good. They all tell me she is the best, although Karen Li is not present and apparently she is quite good. Next year’s captain Kiwi Chan tells me she has a lot to live up to. “I have a lot to live up to,” she informs me.
I ask the team what Badminton means to them. Kiwi tells me she likes squash. Sophie Li explains that the racquet is very light compared to tennis. This means less effort is required when playing the game. Fiona Lim tells me she is only playing the game because of Linda. “Without Linda I would be doing something else; she is an inspirational captain.” Linda tells me that she only plays the game to inspire others. “I play the game to inspire people like Fiona”.
The boys’ captain is Jonathan Tan. Jonathan was not the intended captain at the start of the year but the man originally appointed has not been seen all year. It emerged that he saw himself as a managerial appointment who would inspire from a distance and would win matches through the performance of others. For Jonathan, Badminton is quite simply his life. “Without Badminton I am nothing!” he told me. Keita is also passionate about his Badminton. “It’s in my blood,” he said.
I finished by asking Mr Dalton what he felt was important in preparing for the Badminton Season. He told me that he holds trials at the start of the year. “I got the idea from the Badminton Horse Trials. I noticed that no horses get into the team but they still hold the trials every year. I guess the horses must be very keen on the game even though they are not very talented. I thought it sounded like a good idea to hold trials. Then for fitness we do a lot of shuttle runs.”
He went on to say that he would like to thank Mr Welch and Mrs Adams for their expert help with the team. “It helps to have some knowledgeable teachers as back up, in case I am away.”
I was assured this year has been a successful year for Shrewsbury Badminton. On the House front, Moser’s won the girls’ competition and Ridgemount won the boys’ trophy. Mr Dalton reminded me that when he was a tutor in School House, School House dominated. At this point Mr Dalton began to reminisce about past star players. The School House trio of Sean Lim, Pao and Ban Tantipiriyakij and Hong Kong champion Samson Yick, who was in Moser’s.
It is clear that Mr Dalton has a great affection for the Badminton Club and all who have played the game while he has been here. He has certainly managed to create an atmosphere where Badminton can be played and enjoyed with a smile on the face of all those involved. “Some of my happiest memories at Shrewsbury School have been watching Badminton,” he tells me. “It is an important sport for many of our pupils and I have met some genuinely lovely students through it.”
Mr Dalton will be passing on a thriving club to Miss Woo, who takes over next year. Thank you, Mr Dalton, for being far from invisible! The last word must go to Linda who said of Mr Dalton: “He is a very kind and considerate man. He has given us the chance to play the game we love and he knows the rules now!”