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.
Katina Bonham at KES, indefatigably backed by Keith Osborne at Chester celebrated the turn of the century with a millennium Ball Cup at Chester. The Henley Stewards backed the finances, over 100 crews competed, and The Admiral of the Dee attended.
However, the Ball Cup in the South hit a wall, with the annual event virtually stalling through a combination of rivers flooding and with nobody offering to host it there was a risk it would disappear off the rowing calendar. Following a call from Keith Osborne to Michael Righton (who was Master in charge of Rowing at the Dragon) in 2002, it was obvious that something drastic needed to be undertaken if the event was to survive. Michael suggested that the event be moved to Dorney, which was being developed at the time but that some of the underlying rules had to be changed (such as the £1 entry fee…), but the concept of the event being available to small Junior Rowing Clubs and Schools should be maintained. With strong support from the Henley Stewards Charitable Trust, funds were found which offset most of the fees in hiring the facility. Michael together with Barbara Wilson (OUBC Boat Club Administrator) who organised the Umpires reestablished the event at Dorney in 2003.
2003 With a dozen or so schools and around 150+ participants the event was back on the road and the Ball Cup was won by King’s Rochester. At this event, Graham Middleton met with Michael and mentioned that the Ball Cup had Trophies and that he would be willing to look around for them. In 2004 Graham returned with the Trophies and volunteered to help in the running of the event. Over the next four years, Graham looked after the Entries and Michael the logistics and the event grew from strength to strength.
2004 welcomed 49 schools to compete at Dorney, some 300+ crews. Reading Bluecoat School won The Southern Ball Cup. In the north, on the Mersey, Warrington Schools RA won The Northern Ball Cup by the narrowest of margins from Bradford GS. 80 crews competed.
2005 saw yet further expansion. The Southern Ball at Dorney attracted 75 schools and nearly a thousand competitors. Nearly one hundred races ( all bar, unfortunately the traditional fours events, the last on the programme cancelled due to squalls and lightning ) left the small organising team promising to scream for assistance in 2006! Putney HS took the Senior Ball; The American School in London were runners up. In the North, Hollingworth Lake was besieged as the northern schools echoed the southern frenzy. Bradford GS avenged their previous year’s defeat by turning the tables on Warrington. Runcorn RC hosted the 2006 Northern event, with Queen’s Park HS coming out on top. Back at Dorney, the girls of Sir William Perkins took the southern event.
2007 at Dorney again saw squalls, with racing again suspended for a while. The resumption saw The American School in London avenge their previous year's narrow miss by narrowly beating Sir William Perkins' School. In the north, Trentham RC took the event from Grange School, who will host the 2008 event.
2008 saw a glorious day at Dorney, with a yet higher record of 426 crews, 1036 competitors squeezed into a 114-race day. The Ball Regatta welcomed newcomers Springhill Juniors, who with youngsters from Burway, Gloucester and American School closely pressed eventual winners Sir William Perkins. In the North, Grange School successfully hosted the event for the first time.
2009 in the North saw Grange just pip Sir John Deane's. The event was hosted by Runcorn. The search goes on for a permanent northern multilane course. At Dorney, over 1,000 competitors again competed in glorious weather. Oratory School took both Ball fours events from Charterhouse; Peterborough City Schools were the Victor Ludorum from Kingston Schools and Evesham SRA. On the organisation side, Phillip Clements became the Event (or OC) Chairman.
2010 at Dorney retained entries at saturation levels. Over 1,000 competitors in 440 crews from 50 clubs contested the event. Walbrook Teddington Schools took the Victor Ludorum. Whitgift School won the traditional Ball Coxed Fours, Stratford-on-Avon the Girls Event. In the North, Runcorn prevailed over Warrington.
2011 in the south had another record entry, requiring a change to the heat system so that the fastest 6 crews across all heats went through to the final. Weybridge, Lea and American School came first, second and third respectively in the Victor Ludorum. The Ball Cup supported the Runcorn Junior Regatta, rather than holding it’s own regatta.
2012 in the South used the same system as in 2011. Kings School Ely, American School and Upper Thames were first to third in the Victor Ludorum. This was Barbara Wilson's last year as Chairman of the Race Committee. The Ball Cup Regatta is very thankful for Barbara's help in re-establishing the event.
2013 at Dorney was affected by the recovery of the land after the Olympics and strong winds threatened. However the regatta went well with a close VL of 5 points separating the top 5 crews with Cambridge City RC the eventual winners. Paul Holmes became the Chairman of the Race Committee.
2014 at Dorney was cancelled for the first time as the water was only good for coastal rowing.
2015 at Dorney was cancelled for the first time as the water was only good for coastal rowing.
2016 returned in strength and this continued until 2019 when over 45 clubs took part.
2020/21 The COVID pandemic meant that the Ball cup was not able to run for 2 years
2022 The ball cup returned in a smaller format as the organisers, coaches and athletes needed to ease back into the regatta season. 437 atheletes from 32 schools and clubs took part in about 80 races.
Throughout the 2000's the Ball cup has been very grateful for the financial support of the Henley Steward Charitable Trust without who's support we could not run the regatta at a financial level closer to river regatta prices than other multilane regattas.