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James and Cassidy Hampton 

Emotions were running high as husband-and-wife James and Cassidy Hampton won the 2024 EIBA National Mixed Pairs after an agonisingly close final.

The duo, who met through bowls, feel that the win, achieved while Cassidy carries their first child, will be hard to top.

James said: "We've both individually committed a lot of time to the sport, so to come together to win a title is the ultimate feeling. We know each other inside out and really enjoy playing with each other although we don't always see the same game. Some may see that as a negative, but it does open up the opportunity to discuss shots that the other person potentially hasn't seen. There is also a huge element of trust, which I think stems from our home life."
Cassidy added: "If you look at nearly all sports, success as a family is almost non-existent. Usually, it's an individual celebrating a win, but with nationals such as the Mixed Pairs and Family Pairs, we have the opportunity to share the greatest moments with our loved ones. It should be a real selling point of our sport and definitely something that should be promoted we are fortunate that the EIBA allow such formats to ensure everyone is included and for that we are grateful.
"Winning the title together will always be special."

James says that going into the weekend, they knew that the field was tough.
"We set ourselves a one game at a time mentality," he added. "In the second game we dropped an eight which neither of us have ever done before, it was very early stages in the game and although disappointing I think it almost relaxed us, which is a weird thing to say but we stopped focusing on the eight and started to play some of the best bowls we have as a pair all season!
"The semi-final, well, quite frankly for anyone watching it looked like we'd won a raffle to be there! Neither one of us could settle on the rink, and Izzy and Chris were playing well. We were 10-1 down and the head was set up to drop another eight."

With one bowl left, James killed the end and the dynamic of the game changed. Then a slice of luck on the very last end helped get them over the line.
Cass said: "We were both stunned, but knew that we'd been given an opportunity to potentially win the entire competition and we needed to take it! Heading into the final I think we were both pleased to have got that far and a game where we were never eight down which was a plus! James changed his bowls for the final and we just settled. With three ends to go we were 15-11 down, we knew it wasn't impossible but we were also against it end wise, and the clock was ticking time wise!
"We had been building heads well, and there was a potential for a count, next thing we knew we had held on to a five to take us 16-15. The win was back in sight, but still time was against us. We dropped a two on the seventeenth end, and were 17-16 down playing the last.
"We were locked in, more focused than ever, and trying to ensure we didn't waste any bowls! As you would expect it to, the head changed multiple times on the final end, both skips trying to put the jack in the ditch. We held a two, and Scott held his final bowl of the game in his hand, I couldn't watch, I had to wait for James to tell me the bowl had left Scott's hand because at that moment I knew this was the decider. I still don't know if we can believe it, but it's a weekend we will talk about forever."

Cass followed her parents, who were involved in running many local competitions after moving to Devon from Liverpool, into the sport.
"I became curious and thought I'd give it a go," she recalls, "twenty-one years later and I'm still hooked! My first impressions were positive; I was lucky enough to play in the Under 21's team which had some seriously good players and the standard was so high. I have always found it easy to get on with many generations though so when selected for club friendlies the thought of being in a team with older members didn't put me off.
"My first success was winning the Club Under 25's Double rink with Torquay United, funnily enough I was the travelling reserve, and had never played at that level. I went on the coach comfortably knowing I was just watching; little did I know at the time that I'd have to go on!"
James was introduced to bowls by his grandmother, and says bowls was a good fit for him.
"I played many sports and I didn't take to losing very well, so firstly, bowls taught me how to lose, and with that, my determination to win grew. I was lucky to play alongside a lot of good junior players, which I would consider the 'Golden Era' of Devon bowls - It made it an easy decision to stick with the sport. My first success was County Under 25 National Double Rink in 2013-14."

Along with the recent mixed win, Cass regards her greatest achievements as being awarded 'Player of the Series' at last years' international series and qualifying for the EIBA national finals in seven out of eight competitions she entered (she reached the final of the women's pairs with Nicole Rogers for the second year running).
For James, playing for Bowls England in the men's international team and winning the EIBA National Mixed Fours and Mixed Pairs rate highest.
"Since a young age I've always wanted to put the England shirt on," he said. "It's the pinnacle of our sport and being able to tick this off the accolade list was a really proud moment in my life. Being able to go out and play the sport I love while representing our nation felt incredible."

So what do the pair love about the game?
"For me, I believe bowls is an outlet," said Cass. "You could have had the worst week at work, or had bad news but once you step onto the green you can let all thoughts leave your mind for those four hours. I'm sure lots of players will agree with me when I say there is just something about bowls, we keep coming back for more, even after losses we can't help ourselves. One day your bowls are being thrown in the bin, the next day you dust yourself off and go again!
"I am really fortunate to play my disciplines with some of my greatest friends, and although I won't always be a winner on the green, making friends and making memories makes me a winner."
James added: "I love that that no matter how many games or hours you've spent playing the game, nobody will ever perfect it. One day you could bowl them overarm and get close, the next, struggle to get within a yard.
"It's very mentally challenging and a game that rewards consistency, repetitiveness and the ability to handle pressure. Along with the game itself, it helps that there are so many nice people that you meet along the way. I've met friends for life all over the country and had some of the best nights out, it's probably the main reason I keep coming back for more."

Both Cass and James agree that enhancing the appeal of bowls requires a collaborative approach, with stakeholders at the helm lending an ear to the wide community.

They said: "While we players embrace changes that elevate our sport, it's essential that decisions reflect the democratic essence of our sport. It's not just about those in charge; it's about all of us shaping the future of bowls.
"By making informed decisions and create a thriving community, it becomes easier to attract potential sponsors, partners, and avenues for wider exposure. We also advocate for the inclusion of elite players in pivotal decision-making processes. Their experiences on the competitive frontlines equip them with valuable insights that are crucial for the sport's growth and longevity, spanning from elite competitions to grassroots participation.
"Social media has been a game-changer when it comes to promoting bowls. It's a no-cost, powerful tool for reaching both existing fans and potential newcomers to the sport. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. offer avenues to showcase the excitement and camaraderie of bowls in action. With the introduction of streaming too, they come hand-in-hand with offering opportunities for bowls content to be shared to a wide audience."

Sian Honnor.

We'd love to know what bowls means to you, get in touch at info@eiba.co.uk

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April 2024

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