Northampton Saints has joined forces with Northamptonshire Sport and Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby to grow the sport of Wheelchair Rugby in the East Midlands.
Wheelchair Rugby hit the UK from north America in the early-1980s and there are now over 20 clubs across the country with more being launched all the time. The sport, which has developed from being for tetraplegics to being something enjoyed by people with a wide range of physical disabilities, joined the World Wheelchair Games in 1990, becoming a full Paralympic sport in Sydney in the year 2000.
A GB team has qualified for every Paralympic Games and won five gold medals at the Wheelchair Rugby European Championships.
The new club here in Northampton will build on the recent work done by the three partners in sending a group of students from Friars Academy in Wellingborough to represent the Saints in the BT Youth Wheelchair Rugby tournament held in Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire.
Rhian Turnbull, head of PE at Friars Academy, says that Wheelchair Rugby can give disabled people the opportunity to transform their life.
“Having the opportunity have a go at Wheelchair Rugby was an engaging and exciting experience for all the pupils involved,” she said. “For me it was a perfect example of how sport can bring people together, ignite passion and develop important life skills.
“The pupils who went on to be selected for the BT Youth Wheelchair Rugby tournament had an unforgettable day and wore their Northampton Saints shirts with pride. Throughout the day they displayed outstanding teamwork, determination and passion for the sport.”
Wheelchair Rugby is played on a basketball court, with games lasting four eight-minute quarters. Teams are made of up to 12 players, with four on court at any one time. Each person has a vital role to play, which is ensured by using a classification system based on muscle function and strength. Classes range from 0.5 to 3.5 and the team of four players must total eight points or less during play.
The sport is one of the most popular Paralympic pursuits in the world, and Graeme Wilson, disability development officer at Northamptonshire Sport, hopes that the public in the East Midlands will embrace the new club, which will be for players of all ages and genders.
Sessions in Northampton will be based at the sports centre at Weston Favell Academy. The first of four taster sessions for adults aged 16 and over will be held on Monday, January 16th between 7 and 8:30pm. All equipment will be provided by GBWR, including a coach to help and guide newcomers to the sport.
If there is sufficient interest and a good number of players, then a Northampton Saints Wheelchair Rugby Team will be developed and look to compete against other clubs, locally and nationally.
“Having a Wheelchair Rugby club being developed in Northamptonshire is a brilliant addition to our sporting offer in the county for disabled people and a great legacy from the recent Paralympics in Rio,” he said.
“The fact that the club will be part of Northampton Saints is fantastic. The club has a great number of disabled people support them who will now have the chance to play in the same black, green and gold as their heroes.”
“We’re really excited to be working on this project,” said Saints community officer Connor Fleming. “Wheelchair Rugby is a fantastic version of the sport and captures the imagination every time the Paralympics comes onto the TV. Now people here in the Northampton area will have the chance to play, and hopefully this can be the start of a great future for the sport in the East Midlands.”
“Having a club like Northampton Saints throw its weight behind this new team is massive for us,” added Simon Starr, GBWR regional development officer. “It’s a brilliant sport and the full contact element makes it really explosive and also highly tactical as players knock opponents off course to clear a pathway to the goal line for their teammates.
“The progression to developing an adult side is a natural and obvious one. In addition to needing players, the team will also be looking to recruit a large number of volunteers to take on a range of support roles, from team mechanics to committee members and fundraisers.”
We want to hear from anyone who is interested in playing, volunteering, coaching or refereeing wheelchair rugby. To find out more contact Connor Fleming by emailing [email protected].