This year marks the 40th anniversary of the AoC Sport National Championships - a special milestone in the history of this prestigious event.
It also remains the largest annual student sporting event in the UK, with nearly 1,740 college students taking part this year.
The event takes place from 20-22 April, at the University of Nottingham’s David Ross Sports Village and local facilities.
With one month to go, we spoke to Andy Perlejewski, AoC Sport’s Competition Manager, about his experience of the Championships.
My first involvement with the National Championships was in 1987 when I was a staff member at Yeovil College, so this year will be my 32nd Championships.
In those days I took teams to the Champs as well as performing the current role of Regional Development Officer alongside my role as a lecturer.
In 1991 I was part of a small organising group that delivered the Championships in Bristol. Until 2003 the Championships moved locations each year as regions bid to stage the event. My role was organising the ceremonies, medals and trophies.
In 1996 I took the lead when the south west staged the Championships in Weymouth and in 2001 two of us from Yeovil College organised the entire competition on our own in south Somerset.
On each occasion we were fortunate to have a principal that gave permission for us to take on such a massive undertaking, regarding it as quite an accolade for the college to be able to demonstrate that it was big enough and talented enough to be running the National Championships.
I’ve been very lucky to have coached teams in various sports and won more than our fair share of medals. To come back with a gold medal and to say you’re the best college football team in the country is something to be proud of. We live in a competitive world and colleges quite rightly use their participation in the Championships as a very big marketing tool.
The idea of competing as part of a region is very different and something which is quite unique. When you compete on a Wednesday afternoon you’re representing your college, but when you go to the Championships, all the results will come together to create a regional winner.
"To come back with a gold medal and to say you’re the best college football team in the country is something to be proud of."
There have been so many changes over the last four decades but it always has and still does represent one of the most prestigious events in which colleges compete.
The British Association of Sport in Colleges (BASIC) was established in 1978 to promote fellowship and goodwill through sport, and this remains a key value. In 2006 the name changed to British Colleges Sport and then AoC Sport in 2014.
Due to financial costs and logistics, in 2003 we started looking at hosting the competition at central venues such as Loughborough University and Bath University and now we’re in year two of a three-year deal with University of Nottingham.
As it became harder for college staff to take on substantial voluntary roles, a full-time paid co-ordinator was appointed in 2004 and, with support from Sport England and the FA, AoC Sport now employs more than 20 staff.
Over the years the Championships have also become more professional, especially the programme and marketing material. Some of the very early handbooks and programmes include hand written pages that have been copied.
The teams are kitted out so professionally now – most of them come with their regional hoodies and tops so there’s an immediate regional identity which wasn’t always there in the early days. It’s a powerful thing.
The awarding of the Wilkinson Sword is always a special time – it’s like a crescendo that builds up in the hall as the results are read out.
It’s quite exciting being sat in the control room while the scores are coming in. For example, two years ago there could have been four regions who could have won the Sword, the placings changing with every new set of results. Its’s one of the reasons why we love getting involved.
One year we had the volleyball final just before the closing ceremony at Preston Guildhall. It was just stunning, with about 1500 people sat around the court, watching what was a really exciting final – that was memorable. If I had the time I could mention the year the college mini-bus broke down on the way to the Championships, winning a silver medal in hockey with a team of converted footballers, the year it snowed, and many more.
The Championships wouldn’t be possible without all the great work from staff in colleges who give up their weekend to support students. They don’t get paid for being there but I know for a lot of staff it’s a really special weekend.
There are 350 staff supporting students this year alone, so if you go back 40 years and think of the number of staff who have been supporting students at the event, it’s a huge number that we have to thank.
To celebrate 40 years, we are asking colleges to submit photos of past students who have gone on to become Olympians, World Champions or represented their country in their sport. Images will be used in a photo montage at the opening ceremony. Click here to find out more.