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Celebrating 40 Years of Conkers at the Beach

GNSGNS photo
It has been 40 years since the first conkers tournament at GNS was held, and School Archivist Mr. Stuart Brambley has been there since the beginning. 

Conkers is a British pastime for children, dating back to the mid-19th century. Mr. Brambley smiles and adds “Who knows, maybe it was introduced in 1066 by William the ‘Conkeror.’” 

The game is played by two players each with a chestnut, or ‘conker,’ threaded onto a piece of string. They take turns striking each other’s conker until one breaks. 

The game was brought to Glenlyon Preparatory School in 1976, but was only played by a few boys at the time—possibly due to the outside success of Grade 7 student Tybring Hemphill ’79, who won a tournament in town. 

Each fall, as an increasing number of students participated, Mr. Brambley initiated a Glenlyon Conkers Championship, which was first won by Chris Wall ’85 in 1981. 

From then on the championship became a regular fixture, taking on increasingly more emphasis, involvement and organization. Because of the popularity, Mr. Brambley drew up the ‘Ten Commandments’ for the competition. It was a way to reduce contentious issues and ‘doctoring’ of conkers, which could be done by baking or soaking a conker in vinegar, using a hardened conker from previous years, and so on. 

“It was also a way of trying to bring some organization to the tournaments,” said Mr. Brambley. “It got so incredibly busy. It went from just an interest of a few kids when I first arrived to probably half of the campus getting involved.” 

Staff even got involved in the competition, as one year Mrs. Jones, a Grade 2 teacher, became champion. Patrick Hunter ’03 was the only student to go on to a bigger competition, taking part in one organized in Vancouver, and he was recognized as the school’s ‘conkering hero.’ 

As interest and excitement in this annual event increased, grade eliminations were organized and each Grade Champion was contested in playoffs to reduce contestants to the final two. The final was held at a Friday Morning Assembly. 

Once the Beach Drive Campus changed to Junior Kindergarten through Grade 5, the intensity of the strike during conkers was much less, so Mr. Brambly brought in the Crackdown and the Official Crackdown Brick. 

“It would go on forever swinging the Conkers, so I added in the Ten Commandments there had to be a time limit like a recess, and at the end, if there was no clear winner there would be a Crackdown!” he explained. “A Crackdown was a teacher on duty, taking the two conkers—making sure they were equally distanced in their hand while holding the string and they would smash on the concrete to see whose conker would break up first. The remaining one was the winner.” 

The popularity of conkers has continued to thrive and  Mr. Gavin Bowers, Junior School Vice-Principal, now organizes the contest each Fall, where the Grade Champion is presented at the Friday Morning Live Assemblies. 

“I guess for the very same reason it was popular in Britain when I was growing up,” said Mr. Brambley about why it continues to be popular. “It is just one of those activities that two people can easily do, it catches on really fast and as far as the campus at the Beach, it gets the kids really excited.” 

Here’s to another 40 years of conkers tradition at the Beach!