By Eric White
A GROUP of disabled youngsters from Thurrock are heading to Sheffield this month for the final of the Lord’s Taverners Under-19 National Boccia Championships (Physical Disability Division).
The team from Beacon Hill Academy in South Ockendon won the East Anglia South regional final in January and will now take on eleven other regional champions from across the country at the English Institute of Sport on 20 May.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” said Brandon Mullin, Head of PE at Beacon Hill Academy. “We had a little bit of luck in the regional final, but I’ve never seen our kids play that well as a team before, so we’re excited.”
Essex champions Beacon Hill clinched a close-fought regional final by winning two of their round-robin games by just a single point – one of them having come from behind – to qualify for their first ever national finals.
“It was a little bittersweet as we had two teams entered,” added Mullin, “so there were three happy kids and three unhappy kids. But we can take a team of five to the national finals, so we’ll be taking an extra player or two. On the whole we’ll be very excited.”
15-year-old Courtney Burgess said: "I feel really good. I love playing boccia and it will be exciting to do an overnight trip to compete in the national finals in Sheffield. This is our first time in a national final." ”
The Lord’s Taverners regional boccia final was run in partnership with Boccia England and Panathlon – a national charity that provides sporting opportunities to 7,500 young disabled people each year.
Beacon Hill Academy are both reigning Essex county champions. East of England regional champions in Panathlon’s multi-sport competition.
This marks huge progress since the school first became involved with the charity seven years ago.
Before then Beacon Hill students only took part in sport experience days, whereas now Panathlon provides them with an opportunity to compete with their peers from other schools at various sports, including boccia, on a level playing field.
“Panathlon has been the main driving force behind sport in school,” said Mullin.
“There was never any place for us to go and play sport of a competitive nature until Panathlon came to Essex, so we owe pretty much everything that we do to them. Panathlon is still the only competitive event that we attend.
“Our children have been sheltered in the past from the real world, you could say.
"Panathlon helps give them confidence in their ability, they meet lots of people, make lots of friends and have success that is recognised outside of the school, which is really important for them.”
Courtney Burgess echoed those sentiments, adding: "This is the only chance I have to play team sport at school and outside of school, so it is really important to me and my other teammates that we can do this through Panathlon and Boccia England."
Now the team are hoping to transfer their success with Panathlon to the National Boccia Finals and make it a memorable trip to Sheffield.
“We’ve got a month to get ready and the standard will be really tough, so we’ll be doing as much training as we can,” added Mullin.
“The kids are really excited about the trip, so we’ll go there and we’ll do our best.”