Stevenage boss Darren Sarll praises talented sporting teens at Jack Wilshere’s former Hitchin school

Passionate PE teacher Sally Emler and Darren Sarll

Passionate PE teacher Sally Emler and Darren Sarll - Credit: Archant

Stevenage FC boss Darren Sarll took time out from his busy pre-season schedule to hand out awards to elite athletes from our area.

Darren Sarll and Arsenal legend Jo Churchman

Darren Sarll and Arsenal legend Jo Churchman - Credit: Archant

Darren, whose League Two team narrowly missed the play-offs last term after an impressive mid-season surge, was happy to be the guest of honour.

The 20 elite athlete honours he distributed were for a range of impressive achievements from talented teens at Hitchin’s Priory School, off Bedford Road.

Trampolinist Marshall Frost picked up the Elite Athlete Award, while Year 9 star Maya Grant won Elite Athlete of the Year after being selected for the GB gymnastics squad.

Year 7 footballer Baylin Johnson was recognised for having his contract extended at Arsenal, while Jade Gordon Gardener of Year 10 received a similar award – having signed a new youth contract at Spurs. Fellow Year 10 pupil Dev Simms, who is on the books at West Ham, picked up the same accolade.


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Amy Gooderham from Year 13 won an honour for her football skills, while Stotfold Twirlers’ Mila Crook won a gong for the quality of her baton twirling.

Maya Grant was honoured for representing GB Gymnastics and Millie Warne won an award for her Street Dance skills,

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Student of the Year was given to Euan Metcalfe in Year 11 for his exceptional achievement and commitment to athletics.

Speaking exclusively to the Comet, Darren said: “I’m still quite new to holding a position in an organisation where you are seen as an example.

“But I’m still quite surprised when I get asked to do things like this.

The trophies handed out by Boro boss Darren Sarll

The trophies handed out by Boro boss Darren Sarll - Credit: Archant

“It’s very much an honour for me to be thought of and to deliver this type of message.

“Seeing the variety of sporting excellence on show was just frightening.

“Golfers, ballerinas, trampolinists. I was so overwhelmed with the talent the girls had, that the dancers and the ballerinas had. The female footballers too – it was incredible.”

Darren, who is busy preparing Boro for their first match of the new season against Newport County at the Lamex on Saturday, had a special word for the budding young footballers.

He used the example of former Arsenal youth starlet Kaylen Hinds, who went from the North London giants to Stevenage on loan for the final months of last season. His attitude and ability earned him a £2 million move to Germany’s top division, the Bundesliga, with Wolfsburg.

Darren added: “There was a few lads signed at West Ham, Arsenal and Spurs.

“They came and spoke to me after the ceremony, and we had a chat about when they were starting their apprenticeships.

“I said to them: ‘Listen – I just worked with Kaylen, who phoned me the other week to say I just want to thank you as I’m signing for Wolfsburg in the morning.’

“His work ethic and his humility, for someone at Stevenage, was different – and that’s the reason he’s going to play European football next season.”

Marshall Frost with the Elite Athlete Award presented by Darren Sarll

Marshall Frost with the Elite Athlete Award presented by Darren Sarll - Credit: Archant

The football boss praised the Priory youngsters – saying he was impressed to see that despite their talent they had no airs or graces, and came across as unaffected youngsters who just wanted to talk about the game while seeking out his advice.

The highly-rated Stevenage boss, who is seen as a rising managerial star in the professional game, is a huge advocate of hard work allowing talent to shine through.

The modest gaffer explained: “During the introduction the word ‘talent’ was used a lot.

“It actually coincided that my opening line was ‘I am talentless’.

“As a sportsman, I am talentless – but I said where I feel I will always come out on top is that I’m ready to work harder than everyone else in this room, because I have got zero natural talent.

“Everything I have acquired is through learning, working hard, perseverance.”

He told the students: “You may be called talented tonight, but if you are an elite sportsman or elite in anything you go into, it won’t be because of that talent – it’ll be because of your determination, your work ethic.

“You won’t do anything unless you show that commitment to whatever trade you go into.

“If you are going to work in restaurant, you want to be the best chef, or the best server, the best waiter.

“It’s about discipline and dedication that says this is what I do because I love doing it – and I’m going to give it absolutely my all to try and maximise my potential.”

Inspirational Darren also found time to catch up with an old pal – PE teacher Jo Churchman, who was a trailblazer for women’s football in this country when she played for the Arsenal in the 1990s.

At the age of 17, Darren was already studying for his UEFA B Licence. A friend of his father was the manager of a ladies’ team, so he went there to learn more about the game for his qualification – and met Jo.

He recalled with a smile: “She was 30 odd, I was 17. She was the captain, a big character, massive character – she’d won countless trophies including a number of women’s FA Cups, and we struck up a lifetime friendship.

“It was great to catch up with her again. It was brilliant, we just reminisced about some of the things we did, some of things we were part of, some of the things that happened, it was great.”

Ambassador Darren also had kind words to say about the staff of the school.

He said: “I very rarely go into a school and see staff so determined to make their students feel good.

“I felt that there was a real desire to really showcase the best of attitude and ability.”

He added: “Anything Stevenage can do to use our position in terms of trying to help children, to help with learning, to help with motivating, we are more than happy to.

“We are more than a club, we are a town, a region, a district, and anything the football club can do in the community, the first-team, the manager, we all buy into it.”

If you haven’t been to watch Stevenage FC yet, why not take the opportunity of attending their first game of the season on Saturday?

To find out more see stevenagefc.com or follow them on Twitter using the handle @stevenagefc.

The Comet also has a dedicated account covering the club, called @stevenageborofc.

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