Grass roots sport is in good hands

HARTLEPOOL has a very proud history of grass roots sport and there are hundreds, if not thousands of people taking part in dozens of different sports in the town every week.

In almost every sporting discipline, Hartlepool has clubs and organisations that have a long proud history and it is particularly encouraging to see so many youngsters coming through the ranks in most of them.

One of Hartlepool’s strengths is that geographically and demographically, we are quite isolated. This leads to people becoming very territorial in nature and engenders a local pride and competitiveness especially when it comes to sport.

If you take some of the more popular sports like football and rugby, the local rivalries that have existed over the years are legendary and have resulted in some magnificent sporting occasions.

This strength can also be a weakness though and it can prove to be really difficult to get rival clubs working together for the mutual benefit of each other, the sports themselves and the town in general.

I had the pleasure of attending the Hartlepool Sporting Association’s (HSA) sporting awards last week at Hartlepool College of Further Education and I think the college has cracked it.

Nearly two years ago, the college came up with a vision to bring together local sports clubs and organisations to form the HSA and make sport an integral part of what the college could offer to students.

The idea is to bring together local sports clubs from all disciplines to produce some elite athletes and successful sporting teams that the town can be proud of.

To become a member of HSA local clubs have to meet some rigorous criteria. Twelve clubs are already members and these range from rugby, swimming and football to table tennis, netball and Hartlepool Sportability.

Hartlepool United are also an associate member and extremely supportive of the HSA. Twelve other local clubs are currently waiting to become members of the HSA and are undergoing an assessment or being supported in reaching the standards required to become a member.

The sporting opportunities for students at the college are also flourishing.

Professional coaches are employed to get the very best out of the young people and it will only be a matter of time before we see some of the college teams competing for national honours.

Any sportsperson who competes at the highest level will tell you that discipline is a key factor in their success and it is no different at the college.

Students must attend all of their regular lessons to be eligible to take part in the sporting programs and this approach is gaining some hugely positive results.

With the Olympics just around the corner, it is feasible that Hartlepool could be represented at the world’s biggest sporting event by three or four athletes, which would be a phenomenal accolade for a town with a population of around 90,000 and shows just how important sport is to Hartlepool.

If the Olympics are to leave a meaningful legacy to the country, it would be to get more young people to participate in sport.

Hartlepool has already stolen a march on most places by setting up the HSA which will give the town the foundations and the network to be able to give youngsters the very best opportunities to excel in their chosen sports and give the clubs a chance to develop further and compete at higher levels.

As I’ve mentioned, the awards ceremony took place last week and each member club in HSA had the opportunity to recognise both the athletes who have achieved something special over the last year and the club volunteers who work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the smooth running and functionality of each club.

It was a particularly uplifting evening and a very welcome respite from all the doom and gloom around at the moment. Being an avid sports fan myself, it made me immensely proud that so many Hartlepool people are excelling at sport.

The winner of the HSA’s first Sporting Personality of the Year was Barbara Brown from Oaksway Netball Club.

She couldn’t make the awards as I’m told she was sunning herself on a beach somewhere exotic and good on her, she more than deserves it.

Barbara is one of the town’s sporting stalwarts and as well as consistently producing a ladies netball team that is full of internationals and one of the best around, has had a positive effect on the lives of hundreds of Hartlepool youngsters over the years.

Well done Barbara and congratulations to HSA and all its members. The HSA, through the leadership and vision of the college, will grow from strength to strength and continue to fortify grass roots sport in Hartlepool.