STRATFORD District Council’s annual Celebration of Sport is set to take place next week.
Recognising the year’s sporting triumphs, the event also sees the hard work of volunteers, coaches and supporters from across the district rewarded.
A shortlist of finalists has already been chosen from which The Observer will be previewing two categories before the winners are announced.
This week it’s the turn of the Volunteer of the Year category – with Megan Watkins, Chris and Sue Dale and Kelly McCormack all nominated.
AT JUST 14 years-old, Megan Watkins is by far the youngest nominee in the Volunteer of the Year category.
But despite her tender age, the Shipston High pupil has been racking up experience in a wide variety of sports for more than a decade.
After first beginning at Lookers Elite Dance Academy aged three – where she still dances to this day – Megan became a young leader and now helps the teacher at Spotlight Dance on Thursday evenings.
She also recently started to teach her own after school dance club at Acorns Primary School – but Megan’s passion isn’t just for dance.
A big fan of hockey, the youngster organises and runs her own club in Long Compton for those aged nine and over on a Saturday morning.
And a massive personal highlight came last year when she was asked to play for Shipston Ladies hockey team after scooping her school’s ‘Hockey Player of the Year’ title two years in a row.
But Megan’s commitment to volunteering doesn’t stop there.
She is also a keen gymnast and having got into the sport through her mum, she now volunteers as a gymnastics leader and teacher on Wednesday and Friday at Long Compton Primary School.
When she’s not busy volunteering, she enjoys listening to music, reading and spending time with her friends like most teenagers but sport still plays a big role in her life as her hobbies also include surfing, football and cricket.
And despite managing to balance her studies with a wide range of volunteering roles, the youngster was stunned to realise she had been nominated by her PE teacher Mr Abiss.
Speaking to The Observer, her mum Michelle, said: “Megan thinks its amazing and slightly unreal that she has been shortlisted.
“She doesn’t know if she deserves to win as she thinks there are probably better people out there but if she did, she would be thrilled.
“To me, despite being just 14, she has a great work ethos and that makes me incredibly proud as parent.
“A lot of Megan’s personal time is given up to volunteering at school and at other local primary schools as well as finding time to study herself.
“She is hard-working and 100 per cent committed to everything she does and this award would be great recognition of that.”
WHAT started out as a bit of fun watching their daughters compete eventually turned into a full-time volunteering role for both Chris and Sue Dale.
Over the years the pair have gone on to be part of the British Rope Skipping Organisation and have also held positions on both the European and World boards.
Speaking about how they first came into the sport, daughter Rachael, now 26, said: “My sister and I were both part of the Blue and White Rope Skippers in Studley and I took part in my first competition aged nine.
“We went to the World Championships in St Louis in 1999 and the team came last overall. At that stage mum was just a supportive parent but she decided if we were going to do the sport, we would do it properly.
“She took over and three years later we went to Belgium and won the same competition – it was a real turnaround.
“Back when we began, we used to travel just to do workshops and learn the basics. It was a lot of time and money but with mum as coach and dad as chairman, they were willing to make that sacrifice.”
And while the Studley-based Blue and White Rope Skippers still run as a recreational group, in 2010 Sue and Chris shifted their focus to establishing Jump Rope UK.
Based in Redditch, the group has grown over the past four years and is now made up of around 40 members.
But having been the driving force behind that and a number of competitions, the duo have finally decided to hang up their skipping rope.
“Since my sister and I first started the team has gone from regularly placing last to winning titles, gaining Guinness World Records and the sport as a whole has progressed,” said Rachel. “That is down to their contribution and the sport simply wouldn’t be where it is now without their dedication.”
But Rachael insists it hasn’t just been about winning trophies.
She told The Observer: “Every kid that’s been through the team feels like they have another mum and dad. Time and effort has been taken to ensure everything’s okay in the kids’ lives away from competition and that really makes a difference.”
Along with her older sister Rebecca, and friend Gemma McGhee, Rachael will now be taking over Jump Rope UK but she insists her parents wouldn’t be stepping away from the sport entirely.
“They will always be involved as long as our family is and I think that can only be a good thing.
“The sport has grown a tremendous amount since I began and I feel this award would be not a only a great way to recognise their contribution but also the perfect time too.”
NETBALLER Kelly McCormack has been coaching across the district and beyond for more than 20 years.
And she shows no signs of giving up the many volunteering roles she holds any time soon.
Inspired to pick up a netball by her mum, who set up the very first netball Little League in Birmingham, Kelly has been quietly honing her skills for the past three decades.
And the mum-of-one has passed on that passion to her 18-year-old daughter, who now regularly coaches in Stratford.
Currently Kelly gives up most weekends to either umpire or coach teams across Warwickshire and Birmingham.
As well as this, she has also been at the forefront of helping several girls go for county netball trials.
And after scooping the Coach of the Year award in 2009 for her work in Bromsgrove, Kelly hopes her experience coaching at senior and junior regional club level can be passed on to both existing and up-and-coming players in the district.
Since September 2014, she has held the position of head coach at The Croft where she helps schoolchildren from as young as seven get into the sport.
But it is in her role at Stratford Leisure Centre – where Kelly started working in 2012 – that she has made the biggest impact.
From a small but committed group of netballers and what started out as a two-hour slot, she now coaches more than 80 girls and ladies for four hours each week.
But for Kelly much of her enjoyment has come from seeing how much both the players and the sport has progressed during that time.
She said: “It has grown considerably and proved to be extremely popular with numbers at the centre now a record high.
“I have treated the sessions as a community and social group, focusing on the fun side of playing, however, as several of our girls have gone on to be selected for county and the West Midlands regional netball league, they are now telling me they wish to play more competitive netball.
“We’re looking at forming a club, where the girls can compete at an intermediate and high level on a weekly basis, which will really put Stratford on the map as far as competitive netball is concerned.”
But despite her achievements, modest Kelly insists she is simply happy to be nominated for the award.
She told The Observer: “I honestly don’t feel I should win over anyone else as I think everyone who contributes to providing sport and opportunities is equally deserving.
“I’m honoured the hard work I put into the sessions is enjoyed by many but to be nominated is more than enough, and I will enjoy spending the night appreciating everyone’s efforts and contribution to sport in Stratford.”