I have been told that appeals will still go on proximity
They can give weight to whatever they choose, but
the panel must consider whether the appellantâ€™s grounds for the child to be admitted outweigh any prejudice to the school. The panel must take into account the appellantâ€™s reasons for expressing a preference for the particular school (e.g. why they want that school in particular and what it can offer the child that others cannot). [Appeals Code of Practice]
Be sure to include plenty of evidence of your son's sporting ability, and, if possible, letters from teachers/coaches stating that this particular school with its specialist status would be ideal for him.