Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Academy's Ball Rolling

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Academy's Ball Rolling

Article excerpt

The foundation stone of the UK's first disabled sports centre will be laid this month at the Percy Hedley School in Killingworth.

The pounds 1m North East Academy for Disability Sports will be both a school and community facility that will radically improve playing conditions and extend the wide range of disability sports for Percy Hedley pupils.

The academy is scheduled to open next summer and will allow greater emphasis on powerchair football and powerchair rugby (for pupils aged from 11 to 18. It will allow the youngsters to play team games for the first time.

Powerchair rugby was invented last year by three Percy Hedley students and is officially backed by the Rugby Federation Union.

Stewart Evans, head occupational therapist at the school, explained: "We wanted to offer a sport that even very severely disabled youngsters could enjoy.

"Currently, two teams in powerchairs try to squeeze on to our existing facility at Killingworth, which measures 10m x 10m. The new facilities will have a full-size 25m x 15m playing area ( almost four times the space for dribbling the ball and outmanoeuvring each other. The existing gym will be used for other ventures like fitness and dance."

Mr Evans continued: "Powerchair football and rugby matches are fast and thrilling. The chairs hurtle around the court at up to 10 miles an hour as players try to control a ball the size of a beachball but the same weight, proportionally, as a football.

"The games involve contact and are as close to the original sports as possible, with players using power wheelchairs with a specially designed protection system which, despite being a prototype, has been hugely successful.

"We are eagerly awaiting sanctioning by the Football Association Health and Safety Executive of the final rules of wheelchair football as an official derivative so that the protection system is sanctioned and complies with the Disability Discrimination Act."

Mr Evans added: "I have never seen our pupils look so exhausted after playing sport, and because they play in teams, they push themselves much harder. It is great cardiovascular exercise. Some get so into this that we have to tell them to take a break."

Jim Ferris, chief executive of the Percy Hedley Foundation, said: "The powerchair sports have had a huge impact on some of our pupils. …

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