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Wheelchair Sport has been operating in Ballarat for over 20 years, based on the formative work of David Stevens from the Sportsman’s Association of Australia, Ballarat Branch. Initially David liaised with Paravics Victoria and later joined the Board of Wheelchair Sports Victoria and this led to a number of regional Clubs forming in Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Shepparton and the Latrobe Valley.
The Ballarat Club headed by Stevens and Rhonda Tighe from Netball gained a small grant, but more importantly gained the support of the Queen Elizabeth Home who donated old chairs, Ballarat Basketball who donated court time at the Wendouree Sports and Events Centre and a range of willing volunteers to assist in pushing participants around.
The Club had a recreation base but it soon became apparent that Basketball was the preferred sport and a weekly competition evolved as player skill increased. The Club moved to the Arch Sports Centre at Ballarat High School in the late 1990s and the hard working committee used their influence with local businesses, the Sportsman’s Association, the City of Ballarat, the Ballarat South Rotary Club and the Ballarat Courier to gain donations of sports chairs so that now the Club had access to 18 chairs.
This allowed the Club to participate and host regional competitions, offer clinics to both para and quadriplegic athletes, to link with the Ballarat Specialist School and other disability groups or injured sports persons. Volunteers to assist with these programs came from the Sportsman’s Club, parents and friends of athletes and students from Loreto College and Ballarat Grammar.
This continued until 2011, when the Arch became unavailable. Court time was sourced at Ballarat Grammar but storage was a problem. It was only last year that the cooperative work of Basketball Ballarat and Ballarat Badminton brought about a new base for the sport in the Ken Kay Stadium. The support of Sports Central Ballarat has then come to the fore and programs are back up and running with vigour.
David Stevens and his long-serving volunteers are now satisfied that Wheelchair Basketball has a flourishing future in Ballarat with this aspect of the sport of basketball being included as a high priority in Basketball Ballarat’s plans for the 6 court expansion on the Wendouree Sports and Events site. Such is their satisfaction that the Ballarat and District Wheelchair Sport and Recreation Group has decided to close its books and formally hand over its assets, namely the wheelchairs to Basketball Ballarat, and make a donation to the building fund.
The timeliness of all of this couldn’t be better for the sport with the Kevin Coombs Cup, a National Junior Wheelchair Basketball Championships being staged in Ballarat in April in conjunction with the U/18 National Championships for Men and Women. In fact selection trials are on the horizon and it is just possible that a Ballarat wheelchair athlete could make the Victorian team for the event.