Thanks to the 2012 London Paralympic games, public awareness of sporting opportunities for people with disabilities is better than ever and the Sheffield Steelers Wheelchair Basketball Club is working hard to keep up that trend.
The Wheelchair Basketball Club was founded in 1987 by a handful of ex-patients from the spinal injuries unit at Lodge Moor Hospital. The club has now grown to become all inclusive with players of all abilities ranging from amateur to world-class.
According to South Yorkshire Sport there are over 11 million disabled people in the UK, yet less than two in every ten people in England are taking part in sport. The Steelers are now working to improve those figures by spreading the word about their team and by working with local schools.
The club’s new chairman and member for nearly 20 years, as well as a wheelchair basketball player for 40 years, Maurice Hammerton wants 2016 to be about encouraging more people to join in and try out wheelchair basketball, especially young people.
Maurice said: “At the moment we are working with local schools to get students playing inclusive zone basketball, which allows able bodied and disabled kids to play at the same time. It is an innovative idea that has been developed by Wheelchair Basketball specifically because most disabled children are now in mainstream schools and it’s a bit of a nightmare for teachers sometimes if they have only one or two disabled children. So when it comes to PE we know that in a lot of cases that that means these kids end up sent to the library or are keeping score at the sideline. So this is a way of getting everyone involved.
“We hope that the students who we work with in this way will be encouraged to join our club or to try other wheelchair sports. We are also trying to encourage local schools to let us in so we can work with them to develop sports that work for disabled and able bodied students too.”
The sessions with local schools have been funded by South Yorkshire’s Community Foundation (SYCF), the local grant making charity which raises funding for local community projects.
Ruth Willis, chief executive of SYCF, said: “Sheffield Steelers are one of those groups that when you hear about their work you can’t help but smile. We have been able to help fund some of their outreach work which enables them to properly coach and boost the confidence of people just getting started so they feel able to pursue playing. We work hard to be able to continue to raise funding with local philanthropists, especially in a time when funding for community organisations is hard to come by. The Steelers and what they achieve is a fantastic reminder of why we do what we do.”
The club has teams starting from junior right up to their premier team which looks set to win this year’s league. Maurice has been a part of the Steelers on and off for over 20 years and is currently the Chair as well as coach for their Second Division team.
Maurice said: “I went to a special school, which was how it was before disabled children were integrated into mainstream schools and I was coached by someone who was in the GB team and they inspired me to get into the sport. I played for about 20 years, playing internationally and in two Paralympics. Once I stopped playing I decided to go into coaching and I just find it so rewarding seeing the kids progress. I mean some of the kids I coached when they were 13, 14, are now in the GB team, which is incredibly rewarding.”
The club currently trains and plays league games at the Northern General Hospital in the spinal injuries unit sports hall.
Maurice added: “Because we are so tucked away at Northern General, people don’t realise that we are here and that they can come by to play or to watch a game. “It’s great for us in some ways because we get free training and we have access to patients who could join the team but it does mean that wheelchair basketball is fairly hidden here. We can’t even build up a crowd for our games because nobody wants to give up their free time to go up to a hospital.
“We are trying to get some funding to help us move out of there more so we can spread awareness of the club and encourage more people to play and come and watch too but unfortunately funding can be difficult to come by. We are probably the biggest amateur wheelchair basketball club in the world yet we find we are almost invisible in Sheffield.”
The club will soon be offering open Saturday sessions to anyone who wants to try out the sport and holiday camps.