STRATFORD District Council’s Sports Awards ceremony 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.
Vying for the title of VASA Volunteer of the Year are Emma Hancocks, Mat Pickering, Sandy Green and Jo Littler.
AT JUST 17 years old, Emma Hancocks is by far the youngest nominee in the volunteer category.
But despite playing sport for many years, it was only recently she turned her hand to the volunteering side of things.
Having completed her Duke of Edinburgh aged 15, the Alcester Grammar pupil was inspired to help others.
And in the past two years alone, she has managed to rack up more than 100 hours of volunteering – leading her own rhythmic gymnastics club and giving her time to a host of other school clubs including netball, basketball, cross country running and athletics.
In addition to studying A Levels in PE, Maths and Geography, the wannabe PE teacher also manages to find time to work as a sports hall attendant once a week.
And her passion for all things sport is one that continues even outside of school.
Emma is a keen netballer, who has played for Arden Ladies for the past four years and took on the role of treasurer last season.
Her talents do not end there though, as the teen can often be seen racquet in hand ready to give her best for Henley Tennis Club.
But despite her busy schedule, the youngster was stunned to realise she had been nominated for this year’s award.
She told the Observer: “I really enjoy helping out with all sports activities and I am really appreciative of this gesture but I was hugely surprised.
“If I were to win I would feel very humbled as it is something I just love to do and really enjoy.”
For Katie Parsons, head of girls PE at Alcester Grammar, though, nominating Emma was an easy decision.
She said: “In my 11 years, I have never taught a more reliable, mature and organised student who is so willing to give her time and energies.
“She helps out in our PE department almost daily and is a true star.”
GETTING kids off the street and giving them something to focus on is Mat Pickering’s main motivation for volunteering as a boxing coach.
And having started his career as a teenager with Stratford ABC, the 39-year-old is no stranger to the ring himself.
But modest Mat claims he is a better coach than he ever was boxer and he now spends hours each week attempting to pass on his years of experience to other youngsters at Stratford & District Boxing Academy.
It is this tireless dedication to helping others, which has seen him nominated for the award.
A firm believer that everyone deserves a chance, Mat is known for working with young people deemed unmanageable and showing them how to channel challenging behaviours in a positive manner.
His unique but highly successful training methods have had proven results with the club boasting a national champion, national semi-finalist, and numerous quarter finalists, as well as a number of Midlands and County Champions over the years.
Mat has also recently taken on helping coach the FLAG squad – a Midlands based female squad – and has been given the opportunity to work alongside Andy Flowers at the National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough implementing boxing drills and technique to some of the England Lions cricket team.
By day, the dad-of-one makes a living as a self-employed plasterer but he has no doubt that it’s in the ring where he feels most at home.
Of his nomination, he said: “I’m very proud because it’s nice to be recognised for all the hard work that we do at the club.
“Boxing saved me as a teenager and I want to give everyone the same opportunity to experience what a fantastic sport it is.”
EVERY organisation should have a Sandy Green – that is, at least, according to chiefs at Stratford Athletics Club.
An unsung hero and key part of the club’s success, the dad-of-one has been giving his time for free for the past 15 years.
Sandy is a UK Level 2 official who leads the club’s officials’ teams in various junior, senior and veteran leagues and is regularly called upon to support county schools and county championships throughout the year – travelling across the Midlands at his own expense.
In addition to working with the juniors twice a week, he also coaches a throw group, some senior athletes and masters athletes on Mondays.
Come rain or shine, Sandy will always be there – even when he has issues with a reoccurring back problem – and he has helped coach a number of children to national championship titles and medals over the years.
But while he admits his own athletic days are long behind him, Sandy is more than happy to pass on his knowledge to all ages.
He said: “I love helping people to be the best they can be and hopefully they get something out of it as well. It also gets me involved with the community and it’s very rewarding being part of a great team at the club.”
Although he prefers to stay in the background, junior coach Paul Bearman says clubs like Stratford simply wouldn’t exist without the committment of people like Sandy.
He said: “Sandy is totally selfless and always puts everyone else first, without thought of reward or recognition. Many young athletes have reason to be thankful to him for guiding their careers.
“His willingness to support everyone makes him stand out as the epitome of everything that’s great about what a volunteer should be.”
AN INTEGRAL part of Stratford Rugby Club, Jo Littler has been quietly but effectively making a difference behind the scenes for the past 17 years.
Known for her smiley disposition and positive attitude, 90 senior players, 300+ mini and junior players and their families, 180 VPs and more than 100 social members rely on Jo to make match days, dinners and other events run smoothly.
Helping out with everything from pulling pints behind the bar to managing fixtures for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd teams, Jo takes a hands-on approach to all aspects of the club.
This was typified when the club was in between groundsmen and assisted by her husband, Jo brought her farm tractor down and proceeded to carry out the drilling, seeding and mowing necessary to keep all the pitches in top condition.
The mum-of-two has also taken responsibility for producing the club handbook, which involves pulling together information across 16 playing sides, vice presidents, 40+ coaches, sponsors and committee members – no mean feat as the book runs to 40 pages.
She is also an intrinsic part of the team behind the annual bonfire – the largest event in the club’s calendar, which helps to bring in around £6,000 annually.
But her proudest moment by far was being able to secure £25,000 in 2015 to pay for a wheelchair lift, disabled toilet and baby changing facilities.
And as much as she enjoys winning on the pitch, simply being nominated in the category is enough for Jo.
She said: “To win would be fantastic and a massive achievement for both myself and the club but that’s not why I do it.
“I love Stratford Rugby Club and will do anything I can to help – there is a joke at the club for the ‘die hard’ supporters that if you cut us in half we would be black and white the whole way through!”