Six hundred Transition Year students from 30 schools across five counties gathered at the Mardyke Arena on Tuesday for a Wheelchair Basketball4All event.
Organised by UCC Sports Studies and Physical Education third-year students, it was the first time the event was held since before Covid with the aim of promoting an inclusive message that sporting activity is for everyone.
“I did it myself when I came through the programme back in 2015,” said lecturer Diarmuid Lester.
“It was a yearly thing at that stage. Covid put a halt to everything but it’s brilliant to have it back again. You see the atmosphere, that’s what I remember.”
The event followed a leadership training day for students which taught them how to champion inclusion through sport and addressed perceptions and terminology around disability.
“We introduced them to the concept of adapted physical activity,” said UCC student Dan O’Sullivan. “The idea is basically that if we go down to the field to play soccer, I can incorporate you into the activity by adapting my methods so you can be a part of it.
“Paul (Ryan, IWA-Sport) told us a few months ago, a child who was 12 participated in a wheelchair basketball event and that was their first ever time participating in a sporting event.
“That’s shocking. I was down in the halla playing hurling when I was five and six. To be 12, that’s the reality for people with a disability. That’s why it’s good to give these students an insight.”
Tyra Burke, another member of the organising team of students, added: “Often in PE class when you’re anyway different from the rest, it’s a more difficult environment.
“What we wanted to do today was just create an environment where everyone feels equal, everyone feels welcome, and everyone enjoys a sport that they may not have got a chance to enjoy before. We just really want to emphasise that everyone deserves a sports facility.”
The event is intended to ripple out into the community, with students and teachers seeing how to organise similar events in their own schools, while also acting as a fundraiser for Irish Wheelchair Association-Sport.
“I’m a person with a disability myself. I play wheelchair basketball. I know how exhilarating it can be, it’s really fast,” said Clíona Horan, sports inclusion disability officer with Cork Sports Partnership.
“It’s really nice for me to implant this experience on someone else because I know the joy it brings.”
The eight-minute games were fast-paced and the wheelchairs durable to withstand collisions. With court space congested, each team played a passing game as they navigated handling the ball while moving about the arena.
Midleton College came out on top of the morning session and Coláiste Cois Siúire, Mooncoin, were afternoon champions, with schools from Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford also competing.
“We thought we wouldn’t be doing well but we’re better than we thought,” said Bandon Grammar student Frankie O’Brien.
“We play basketball in school but we wouldn’t be this good. We’re a lot better in the wheelchairs!” “I enjoy it more,” said her classmate Sarah McCarthy.
“It’s different. More skillful. If you miss a pass in basketball, you can run for the ball. In this, your passes have to be more accurate. But passing is definitely faster than wheeling up the court so we’ve been using that.”
Paul Ryan, national operations manager at IWA-Sport, is a former Paralympic sailor and current member of Rebel Wheelers but turned his hand to refereeing for the day.
He noted how immersed kids were in the experience, with phones left aside for the day’s activities.
“Sport is at its best is when kids are really enjoying themselves, and they are,” he said.
“It’s a fundraiser for IWA-Sport but it’s more than that. It’s really about creating a level of awareness about what’s going on in your community.
“For kids with disabilities in the Cork area and all over the country, it’s a huge possibility you can play this game so it’s great to highlight it.
“The staff couldn’t get over the energy in the room so to create that, we’re going to keep this going. It’s worth it and there are valuable outcomes as well for kids.
“I don’t think any of them will go home today thinking that’s what it’s like to have a disability but in maybe five or 10 years’ time they might say, I played that sport or know somebody who has a disability and think a little bit higher of them that they can play sport and do all this stuff as well.”