STRATFORD District Council’s Sports Awards ceremony 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 Observer deputy editor Laura Maltby takes a look at the nominees for the NFU Mutual Community Sport Award category.
In the running are Stratford Athletics Club Juniors, Stratford Cycling Club Youth and Stratford Rugby Club.
Stratford Athletics Club Juniors
JUNIOR coach Paul Bearman insists it is not always about winning at Stratford Athletics Club.
But he admits scooping the community award would be a fitting end to what has been a very busy and successful year.
After being chosen by Stratford Town Trust to receive a £240,000 grant in 2014, a community pavilion has finally been built alongside the club’s multi-use track at Stratford School.
It has no doubt played a part in shaping some of their athletes’ individual successes over the last 12 months with a number of them being shortlisted in other categories of this year’s awards.
But something Paul is particularly proud of is the way in which the new facility has helped to open the club up to the wider community.
Whether it’s chasing medals at an international level or just running to keep fit, Paul says there is something for everyone at Stratford Athletics Club.
He told The Observer: “The club is hugely successful competitively but we are also keen to promote a supportive environment where children can train and compete irrespective of their background or athletic ability.
“The way the club is run and has developed – particularly in the last year – is amazing and this award would not only recognise that but also the success the youngsters continue to have as a club and individually.”
Each year the club is responsible for organising the south Warwickshire schools indoor and outdoor athletics competitions, which sees more than 1,500 children take part while holiday athletics and activities camps attract around 400 youngsters from across the district.
In recent years, the club has grown to include over 300 athletes, who are supported by more than 40 qualified coaches, plus officials and volunteers.
And while it is the athletes out performing on the track, it is the voluteers who Paul feels deserve recognition.
He added: “I’ve been fortunate to have won Coach of the Year three times but I never felt the terrific people who volunteer were recognised properly for the contribution they make.
”It would be a wonderful achievement for all those who have, and still do, give their time, skill and commitment to the young people of Stratford district to win this coveted award.
“Stratford AC continues to be a major sporting focal point in south Warwickshire and we strive to ensure everyone feels part of a special community so it’s great to have been shortlisted.”
Stratford Cycling Club Youths
THERE is little more rewarding than seeing the smiling faces of happy young people who are enjoying being successful.
That is, at least, according to Stratford Cycling Club’s youth group leader, Louise Green.
The youth section of the club was set up around seven years ago and offers those aged between five and 16 the chance to take to two wheels and ride for fun or at a more competitive level.
In the last 12 months, close to 100 youngsters have been lining up for training sessions at the Home Guard Club come rain or shine.
Under the ethos ‘Ride hard, play fair’, each rider is given the chance to develop their bike handling skills by working with coaches and volunteers.
And the hard work is paying off as four members have progressed into the West Midlands Development teams and Stratford cyclists are leading the way in two of the five age-related sections of the West Midlands League.
Another rider, who joined the club last year having never been coached before, was recently selected for the British Cycling Talent Team.
The club has also taken riders on regular visits to the velodrome in Derby while members have raced on purpose-built circuits at Shrewsbury, Solihull, and Stourport.
Others meanwhle, have competed social rides in Scandinavia and one member recently completed a ride to Paris.
Of the nomination, Louise said: “Everyone who has worked towards the team’s development is an asset that deserves recognition.
“Each week our riders get on their bikes with the aim of trying to improve, have fun and hopefully win a race. The dedication, hard work and determination they show makes me very happy to be involved.
“We are a racing club first and foremost and encourage our riders to have a go, but we know not everyone can be a winner.
“We all ride hard and play fair and whether we are successful at the awards, this positive attitude is something we can be very proud of and something that will continue long into the future.”
Stratford Rugby Club
THE PERFORMANCE of Stratford Rugby Club on the pitch has significantly improved over the past year.
But it’s off the pitch where there has been an even bigger transformation.
The club, which has also been nominated for the Senior Team of the Year award, has made efforts to put back into the game through Sunday morning training with its mini and junior sides.
And players from the senior squads have been passing on their knowledge by taking coaching sessions in a bid to help the club’s youngsters become future players.
This idea of building for the future has also extended to the wider community with squad members hosting two training sessions a week for Stratford College as well as organising events to drum up support for ladies rugby.
Post-match raffles, club nights and dinners with players have raised well over £2,000 for the Pearcecroft Trust while volunteers have been working hard behind the scenes to improve the club’s own facilities.
And with Stratford’s first XV recently being named team of the month by BBC Coventry & Warwickshire, it seems things are very much on the up.
Club secretary Charles Beighton said: “Overall the performance of the club both on and off the pitch in the past year has helped raised its profile within the sport, the county and the wider community.
“It has paved the way for Stratford to become the first club in Warwickshire to be chosen as a partner for Wasps RFC.
“This will not only improve the standing of the club in the rugby world but will also provide access to an increased level of support and resources to develop future generations of Stratford players.
“We would be delighted to win but of course it is great to be nominated as it recognises all the hard work, efforts and commitment put in by players and coaches to training and individual player development.”