Athletes on track for the School Games

Aiming high: Wheelchair basketball player Jack Waring.
Aiming high: Wheelchair basketball player Jack Waring.
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It’s more than just a competition... Star reporter Rachael Clegg chats to Sheffield athlete Jack Waring about the importance of the UK School Games, which begin in Sheffield this week

THIS year’s UK School Games is going to be a very special one.

Keeping his eye on the ball: Table tennis player Eric Wan at Abbeydale Sports Centre, Sheffield.

Keeping his eye on the ball: Table tennis player Eric Wan at Abbeydale Sports Centre, Sheffield.

The event, which starts on Thursday, involves 1,600 of the UK’s most promising young athletes competing in 12 sports - five of which have a disability element.

But that’s not the only reason why it’s going to be a very special year.

The Sainsbury’s sponsored UK School Games, which was put out to competitive tender by cities across the UK, was won hands- down by Sheffield.

Bidding cities opted for the year in which they wished to host the prestigious event and 2011, being the run-up to the Olympics, was the most desirable. And Sheffield got it.

natalia hackett

natalia hackett

It’s also a particularly special event for the young athletes from South Yorkshire who will be competing on their home turf, such as wheelchair basketball player Jack Waring.

Jack plays wheelchair basketball for Sheffield Steelers and is also on the Great Britain under 23 team for the sport. He trains with the GB B team and treats his sport as a full-time job, training for several hours, six days a week and going on intense training weekends.

But he wouldn’t change it for the world. In fact, wheelchair basketball is his world.

Jack suffers from postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome - POTS - which means, in short, that his blood pressure and heart rate aren’t synchronised, making all his blood drain to his legs, as he explains.

“If I stand up I feel really dizzy and fatigued because all the blood is rushing downwards but I’m okay if I sit down or lie down.”

He contracted the debilitating condition after having head surgery at the age of 13.

“I was devastated because sport was everything to me. I played rugby for the school, the local club and was about to start playing for the county. It was a depressing few months when I realised what I had.”

But then he discovered wheelchair basketball and it changed his life.

“It’s brilliant - when you’re on the court you don’t think about anything else. It’s therapeutic.

“My team is my life, I spend so much time with them. Wheelchair basketball is really hard work though - you work every single bone in your upper body.”

With all that upper body work, both moving the chair and shooting the ball, Jack has pretty big arms. “I like them though,” he laughs.

There are 10 athletes from Sheffield competing at the UK School Games, which will take part in sports venues across the city such as Ponds Forge in the city centre and the Sheffield-based English Institute of Sport in Attercliffe.

Will Roberts, who works for the Youth Sport Trust, a charity which also backs the games, says: “Sheffield has some phenomenal sporting venues and sport is almost synonymous with the city.

“This year is also really significant as it’s the lead up to the Olympics - it was the year that all the bidding cities wanted.

“But Sheffield won our confidence because of the fact it has already hosted events such as the European Fencing Championships and the World Student Games.”

The event’s not only important in boosting the city’s image, however. It also provides something for young people to aspire to.

“Sport can mean different things to different people but it does enable every person to reach their own personal best and though there are only a few people standing on the podium there are lots of people behind the scenes and having a go,” says Will.

“Take the marathon and fun runs. Thousands of people take part to beat their own record.

“There are few things in life that provide the opportunity to do that. Sport is a true meritocracy in that sense - it doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you know.”

In 2008 the UK School Games was given a £6 million grant from Legacy Trust UK, an independent charity set up to help build a lasting cultural and sporting legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

This year the event is sponsored by Sainsbury’s and £750,000 of National Lottery Funding from Sport England.

The UK School Games runs from this Thursday to Sunday at various venues across Sheffield.

Visit http://www.ukschoolgames.com/cityinfo_sheffield.php for details.

For full previews on Sheffield’s athletes competing at the UK School Games see Thursday’s Grass Roots in The Star.

On your marks: Sheffield’s key competitors

SHEFFIELD may be an inland city but the city clearly has a knack for breeding top swimmers.

This year at the UK School Games Andrew Gould, 16, Richard Lee, 16, and Tegan Turner-Clarke, 16, will be competing at Ponds Forge International Sports Centre as part of the diving event, which takes place at 10am on Saturday, September 3.

Natalia Hackett, 15, and Adam Khan will be competing in the athletics events at Don Valley Stadium and Eric Wan, 16, will be competing in the table tennis event.

Joe Littler, 18, will be looking to fence his way to a Sainsbury’s UK School Games medal at the English Institute of Sport.

Jack Waring, 16, of the Sheffield Steelers wheelchair basketball club, will be competing in the new disability sport for 2011 and Hannah Saville, 13, will take part in the 2011 cycling events at Wharncliffe and Wheata Woods.

Venues for UK chool Games

Athletics: Don Valley Stadium

Badminton: English Institute of Sport - Sheffield

Judo: iceSheffield

Cycling: Wharncliffe and Wheata Woods

Gymnastics: iceSheffield

Hockey: Abbeydale Sports Ground

Volleyball: English Institute of Sport - Sheffield

Swimming: Ponds Forge International Sports Centre

Fencing: English Institute of Sport - Sheffield

Table Tennis: Ponds Forge International; Sports Centre

Wheelchair Basketball: Sheffield Arena

Girls Rugby Sevens: Abbeydale Sports Ground