STRATFORD District Council’s annual Celebration of Sport takes place tonight (Friday).
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 and below The Observer’s Laura Maltby takes a look at the nominees for the Service to Sport category.
Vying for the title are Jerry Birkbeck, Tony Butler, David Kirby, Richard Hughes and Godfrey ‘Tipper’ Watts.
ALL-ROUNDER Richard Hughes has been helping the people of Stratford for almost two decades now.
Having previously worked in Coventry, the keen swimmer saw an advert for a job as a lifeguard at Stratford Leisure Centre and decided to take the plunge.
Over the years, his role has grown and now includes a variety of sports such as trampolining, gymnastics, football and aqua fit.
In addition to coaching all ages and disabilities in Stratford as well as at centres in Southam and Shipston, the 41-year-old also spends time in schools throughout the district helping with PE and encouraging youngsters to get into sport.
Known for his smiley disposition, Richard even arrives early to set up soft play equipment for toddler sessions each week.
Of his nomination, he said: “I was surprised when I was told and of course it is a huge honour just to be nominated.
“I really enjoy the variety of my job – working with lots of different age groups and helping them to achieve their personal best – and the rewards come from seeing how well everyone progresses.
“Nick Richards, who nominated me, has been a great support by believing in me and my coaching abilities and if I were to win I would be happy and proud knowing other people appreciate the efforts I have put in over the years.”
KES has become one of the country’s foremost schools in fencing and that is due, in large part, to David Kirby.
The former Army officer has been working with the school for the past 27 years, but despite battling a host of medical conditions during that time – including a recent pneumonia scare – David’s commitment to fencing, and to KES, has never faltered.
After taking over while still a serving officer in the Royal Engineers at Long Marston, he began with a games option for the seniors once a week.
But it quickly became obvious the boys enjoyed the sport and he expanded sessions to include juniors.
Competing in all three disciplines – foil, épée and sabre – David has trained a number of national and international champions, as well as boys and girls, who have been selected to represent Great Britain.
“One record I am particularly proud of is when the fencers won every age-category of the British Youth Championships in the same year – a feat never before achieved and never beaten or equalled,” he told The Observer.
“I can bang on for ages about what they have achieved but it should be remembered that it was them that did it, not me.
“It is said you learn from your pupils and I certainly did – it has been the greatest fun and a tremendous privilege.
“Seeing the club flourish and the sheer joy in the youngsters’ faces is incredibly humbling and this award would be fantastic recognition for everyone.
“I have shed many a tear beside pistes and I dare say I would if I won. Why on earth do we do it? Because they’re worth it aren’t they?”
STARTING as a player back in 1971, Jerry Birkbeck has gone on to hold all manner of positions at Harbury Rugby Club.
And after more than four decades on the committee, even he admits he is looking forward to the prospect of finally taking a step back.
Over the years Jerry, who captained both the 2nds and 3rds, has racked up an impressive tally of more than 600 games for the club.
But it’s not just on the pitch where he has had an impact.
His role as secretary, fixtures and registration secretary and press officer have seen the 68-year-old become a club stalwart.
Instrumental in arranging grant applications for many ground and clubhouse improvements, Jerry has seen a number of changes during his time.
And among his personal highlights was seeing the club get its own ground in 1979 as well as achieving RFU accreditation three years ago.
More recently he has been involved with securing around £55,000 for a state-of-the-art pitch drainage system.
He said: “Harbury RFC has been a significant part of my life and I have to thank amazing people like Ian Holroyd, Dave Andrews, Steve Kittendorf and many others who have been invaluable as we have gone through the ups and downs.
“My wife Jo has also been remarkably supportive and without that, matters would have been far more difficult!
“It’s been great fun but it’s good to see younger blood coming in, which means I can still go and watch matches but look to my other interests and of course, give the family more time!”
Godfrey ‘Tipper’ Witts
HAVING never pulled a pint in his life, Godfrey ‘Tipper’ Witts was first asked to help out behind the bar at Wellesbourne Cricket Club.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Thirteen years on and Tipper is now known as ‘Mr Cricket Club’ and whether it’s picking up dog poo or entertaining the crowds on match days, he is willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice for the club.
Now there’s never a game, party or training session where he’s not to be seen.
He even keeps an eye on the weather forecast in case the outfield needs cutting or the covers putting on.
And although he admits the nomination is ‘wonderful’, modest Tipper insists he is “simply doing his job.”
But chairman Phil Rothwell maintains clubs like Wellesbourne simply would not exist without the commitment of people like Tipper.
He told The Observer: “If you say ‘I’ll meet you at the club’ you can guarantee he’ll be there before you.
“The amount of times we’ve agreed to put the gazebo up only to arrive and find it three-quarters constructed is beyond me!
“He treats the outfield like his own backyard – lovingly cut once, sometimes twice a week – and he’ll even strim under the fences and around the nets to ensure the ground looks as good as it possibly can.
“He is my right-hand man and a real ambassador for the club. The sheer number of hours he puts in is highly commendable.”
TONY Butler has been quietly, but hugely effectively, making a contribution to cycling in Stratford and Warwickshire for nearly 40 years.
A leading light in the cycling community long before the sport achieved its current level of popularity, the 77-year-old has done much to help young people not only compete at the highest level but also find a purpose through sport.
He first became interested in cycling as a teenager when his older sister married a Frenchman and went to live in Paris.
But after giving up athletics at school as it “wasn’t challenging enough”, his passion for cycling grew and he began to compete in road racing.
He still rides his bike almost every day and recently completed the Macmillan ride in less time than many people half his age.
He regularly organises and drives groups from Stratford to practice at velodromes in Newport and Manchester and having helped establish a number of local cycling events, the father-of-three now acts as press officer for Stratford Cycling Club.
“I was taken aback when I first heard about the nomination,” he admitted. “Cycling has always been a huge part of my life but I’ve always done it for the love of the sport.
“Of course when I was younger I enjoyed the element of competition but it’s also been a nice challenge as I’ve got older to give as many youngsters as possible the chance to ride.
“They say age is experience but as much as I’d like to take on more responsibility, I fear at 77 I may be slightly too old!”