The Junior Inter County has a special place in the hearts of everyone involved in the competition since its inception in 1947. Friendships and rivalries are ever present and the competition remains as exciting and thrilling now as it was in its first years.
The competition is annual and Athletics is one of the founding sports and previous athletes together with parents and grandparents who may also have their own memories of JIC performances turn out each year to cheer on the current team.
The first Junior Inter-county was a success, and in the intervening years the competition has not strayed far from the original formula. The first year Orcadians travelled to Shetland, and the second year Shetlanders visited Orkney. The visiting Orcadians would board with a Shetland family, sometimes with Shetland competitors, and vice versa with lifelong family friendships the result.
Junior Inter-county started with football, hockey and athletics. Swimming was added later in 1948; and then Netball in 1950. One of the most appealing things about Junior Inter-county is that every point counts. Every single effort made by every single individual counts towards a total for the competitors island group. If a competitor comes last, their point for taking part is added to the running total. More points are awarded for third, second and first place. For football and hockey, every goal equals five points and in netball, every ball that goes into the net equals one point. The Island group with the highest score will take home the coveted Stuart Cup (named after Tom Stuart, Shetland’s Chief Constable in 1947 who contributed the trophy).
Over the years Junior Inter-county has inspired a fiery determination in the sporting achievements of Orkney and Shetland. Records have been broken over the years and there are too many stars to name. Coaching has improved and professional coaches have even been shipped in from down south. However, the most noticeable change is the improvement of facilities in both islands, and their effect on the performance of the respective Inter County team.
In the early years, the swimming competition was always held in Kirkwall and Lerwick harbour. This was a hazardous venue – in those days the harbours were also the sewage outlets, and before the race a thick rope between two boats was used to remove any offending material! There were no defined lanes, so competitors were hard to identify and would often bunch up together. Other venues were also makeshift – netball was held in a WW2 hanger and in a car park.
However, in 1969 a swimming pool was built in Stromness, Orkney. In the following years Orkney had a surge of swimming wins. In 1974, a swimming pool was built in Lerwick. Shetland led the way with athletics when the Clickimin Centre, with an all-weather running track, was built in 1986. Orkney caught up in 2001 when a running track was built at the Pickaquoy Centre. Up until this point, the athletics was contested on grass.
Much has changed since the Junior Inter-county competition began. Teams now stay together instead of boarding with competitors. The competition takes place over two days now. In the 1950s Junior Inter-County was run over a 24 hours period. These days facilities are greatly improved; the islands now have high quality games halls and artificial pitches for football and hockey and of course, the teenager of 1947 is an entirely different animal than the teenager of today.
However, the excitement of being away from home without parents for the first time (and resulting mischief), the drive to raise money to participate, the hard work required to succeed in the Junior Inter-County and the bonds created by friendly competition, have not changed!
Junior Inter-County is still a cracking sporting performance to view where old rivalries and friendships are still very much alive and kicking.