With the Paralympics in full swing, STEVE CARROLL reports that disability sport provision in York is leading the nation

THEY have been called the superhumans – the Paralympics GB athletes who are wowing us with their inspirational stories of success and courage.

And, just like their Olympics colleagues, the medal-winning feats that will grab the hearts of a nation are expected to be followed by a surge of interest from people looking to take up disability sport.

Legacy will be the watchword once again. But, in York, the city is already ahead of the game.

With more than 20 disability sports clubs, officers at City of York Council believe the Minster city to be one of the best places in the country for people with disability to take up a new physical activity.

That’s not to say the Paralympics feelgood factor isn’t being felt here.

A wheelchair basketball club folded last year because of lack of numbers but, thanks to numerous inquiries on the back of the Games, will be re-established in the near future.

Paul Ramskill, the council’s sport and active leisure officer, says whatever the demand that comes once the sports at London 2012 have finished, the authority will be ready and willing to accommodate it.

“We have more than 20 disability sports clubs in the city and this is one of the best places in the country to play disabled sport because we cover so many,” he said. “There is so much out there and it is not just the quantity but the quality too.

“There are opportunities to take part in sport, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, and you can get all the way to the top. It really is the place to be. What I’m really hoping for from the Paralympics is more people with disabilities accessing and finding these sports that have a massive impact.

“If there is demand, we will respond to that. We have seen the buzz even before the Paralympics began. People are watching sports they have never seen before and would otherwise have not have been exposed to them.

“93 per cent of disabled people aren’t taking part in physical activity and this is one of the ways we can reach them. People will watch the Games and there might be a club in York for them. We can support them.”

Here, The Press highlights three sports where York is leading the way in provision for people with disabilities. But more options are out there.

To get involved in disability sport, or to become a volunteer, log on to www.york.gov.uk/disabilitysport

Focus on boccia

SO successful they had to move from their Melbourne base to New Earswick Bowls Club, First York Boccia Club are hoping the Paralympics will shine a bright light on their tactical sport.

Boccia, pronounced botcha, is played by wheelchair athletes with cerebral palsy and other conditions.

It is likened to boules with the aim to throw, or drop, either red or blue balls as close as possible to the white jack.

Athletes can play individually, in pairs or in teams. Those with a high level of impairment can use a ramp and a guide, who must face away from the play.

First York Boccia Club hosts an invitational tournament each year with teams coming from Middlesbrough, Wakefield and Huddersfield. Having already gone through difficult times, with volunteers having to take charge of their own affairs from the council, it has continued to thrive.

And, with around 30 regular members, the club are always willing to take more, said chair Carol Walker.

“We would like to get more youngsters to come,” she said. “When we take the sport into primary schools, children absolutely love it. We hope the Paralympics will give people the insight into what the game is. We include everyone and we have lots of members with different abilities.”

To find out more, log on to www.firstyorkboccia.co.uk or email firstyorkboccia@hotmail.co.uk

Focus on football

PARALYMPIC football consists of five-a-side for blind and visually impaired players or seven-a-side for those with cerebral palsy.

At Copmanthorpe Football Club, however, it’s much more inclusive with juniors and adults encouraged to take up the game whatever their disability.

“We have an under-12s, U16s and two senior sides and we play in the North Riding Ability Counts League,” said Paul Bird, who oversees the disability section at the club.

“At Cop, it’s not just about finding the best players or the most ambulant.

“We try to be as inclusive as we can.

“The disability leagues have Leagues One, Two, Championship and Premier and we have one side playing at Premiership level and others at L1 and 2.”

Bird, who also runs the North East and Yorkshire cerebral palsy centre of excellence and whose side won the northern conference this year, said he was asked six or seven years ago to help set up a disability section at Copmanthorpe, which has now spiralled into a total of 50 players.

He believes York is leading the way in disability football.

“I hope that Paralympics football can inspire,” he added. “I am scout of disability players for England. I find players and get them to trials, and I feel there are a lot of players that don’t know what the opportunities are.

“I hope the buzz around the country jumps from the Olympics to the Paralympics. These players are working very hard to be at the top of their games and this is elite sport.

“It’s the same amount of effort as for able bodied athletes.

“I think York is leading the way, with cerebral palsy football especially.”

To get involved with Copmanthorpe, phone Paul Bird on 07721 672976.

Focus on goalball

YORK boasts the largest individual goalball club in the United Kingdom – and they are banking on some of their members featuring in the Paralympics in Rio in four years time.

A fast-paced sport played by visually impaired athletes who wear black-out masks, teams of players propel a bell ball, made of hard rubber with holes in it so participants can hear it as it moves, across a rectangular court. The aim is to roll the ball into the goal, with the opposing team attempting to stop it.

Launched in York in January 2011 as part of York St John University ’s Inclusive Activity Club, York Goalball Club now has around 20 players of differing abilities and was visited by the Paralympic lantern last weekend.

Robert Avery, senior lecturer in health and life sciences at York St John and volunteer goalball coach, said: “Goalball is a fantastic sport and its foundations fit in completely with the ethos of the Paralympics as it uses sport as part of rehabilitation.

“Goalball is also one of the only fully inclusive sports because of the black-out masks that must be worn, anyone can play. After the success of the London Olympics there’s unprecedented excitement about the Paralympics, hopefully this will raise awareness of sports like goalball encouraging more people to give it a go.

“Our volunteers work hard and give up a lot of their time, so it was fantastic to reward them with a visit from the Paralympic lantern. Meeting members of the goalball team who will be competing at this year’s Paralympics really motivated our players and we’re all very excited about enjoying the games. Rio is very definitely a target for us and we are hoping that players we have been working with will be in the GB squad. This is a really positive time for the sport.”

York St John Inclusive Activity Club is looking for volunteers and players. To find out more, log on to www.ysjiac.org or phone YSJ Active on 01904 876300.