Southampton’s wheelchair rugby team booms with success

Head coach: Gary Banks

SOUTHAMPTON rugby club, Team Solent Sharks, has embarked on a campaign to drum up interest in wheelchair rugby to the disabled community across the south coast. Aldrin Makotore reports.

The Southampton Solent University associated club, has had major achievements as the elite Team Solent Shark, but now targets developmental programmes of the sport at grass roots level. The club has ambitious plans to make Solent Sharks the biggest wheelchair rugby club in the country.

Speaking from their training base, St Mary’s Leisure Centre, head coach Gary Banks said, ‘‘Our elite team has done very well. The main focus now is more on the developmental teams, to drum up interest and participation, but we are facing challenges in our projects. We’re currently having a shortage of wheelchairs that fit all age groups. Each wheelchair costs about four to five thousand pounds and we don’t get that much support from local businesses and sponsors.’’

The team welcomes players from a wide range of sporting backgrounds, including elite athletes and beginners alike. Part of their plan is to continue engaging and offering sporting opportunities to the disabled communities across the south coast. They regularly participate in community sport events with local groups. The club also intends to develop partnership with local specialised schools in Hampshire running taster sessions in order to encourage young people to take part in the sport.

Team Solent Sharks training
Team Solent Sharks training

‘‘It’s a great social interaction platform . My son has grown quite a lot since he joined and has made a lot of great friends as well as meeting some of his heroes like Team GB star Aaron Phipps ,’’ said Paul Asher–Relt, a father from Fareham, who brings his son every weekend .

Pete Wells says he finds the sport recreational. ‘‘It’s a good way of exercising through the sport you love. It is good for your health and breaks that psychological stigma about disability.’’

England recently hosted the 2015 Rugby World Cup, causing a boost in popularity. They were widely publicised through television broadcasts and news articles. The BT disabled challenge was also running concurrently with the able bodied tournament. ‘‘The world cup was definitely a huge boost. There was such a buzz and I think it is a good thing for the sport,’’ said Aaron Phipps Team GB rugby hero who is the star attraction at the training sessions.

Anyone is welcome to join the club in any capacity or even have a try at the sport.

For more information visit : solent sharkssolentsharks , @SolentSharks, or visit St Mary’s Leisure Centre on Sundays 09:30 to 12 and Wednesdays 7to 10 amWebsite: http://Team solent sharks