History of WS NSW continued
You can purchase your own record of WS NSW’s history – “Pushing Strong”, by Jeanette Smith, which takes you on an inspirational journey through the history of WS NSW over the past 50 years. For more information please contact our reception on 02 9809 5260 or email.
Kevin Betts AO – 1st Life Member of WS NSW – Father of Wheelchair Sports in NSW
Kevin Betts worked as a physical therapist at the Mt Wilga Rehabilitation Hospital where patients with spinal cord injuries were transferred for rehabilitation from Sydney’s Royal North Shore and Prince Henry Hospitals. Kevin had read about Sir Ludwig Guttmann’s amazing work in the U.K with servicemen returning from the Second World War with spinal cord injuries. He was so impressed that he decided to adopt Sir Ludwig’s philosophy of rehabilitation through sport in NSW. Although Western Australia was the pioneer state for Wheelchair Sport, started in 1954 at the Shenton Park Rehabilitation Hospital by the late Sir George Bedbrook and John Johnston, Kevin went on to become one of the leaders in Australia in developing rehabilitation through sport. Kevin Betts passed away on 4 May 1990.
The Seventies – Laying the Foundations for Change
In the early ’70s there was still little organised competition and the Annual Royal North Shore Hospital Games were a very big event that all wheelchair athletes would try to attend and participate. The events included field and track, sprints and slalom, and would always culminate in a basketball game. Until the commencement of these Annual Games in 1958, there was very little competitive wheelchair sport: the focus was very much on rehabilitation, with the daily rehabilitation programs focussing on wheelchair basketball, archery, gymnastics and weightlifting. The Games continued to be held for the next 28 years until 1987.
At this time, the ‘Club’ was still part of the Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association of NSW (Paraquad NSW), and wheelchair sports events and funding were under its control. However ParaQuad had rehabilitation and welfare programs as well as sport to manage, and the ‘sports club’ members wanted to take responsibility for their own area. The push to form a specific wheelchair sports identity and to developing the ‘Club’ as an autonomous body with its own resources to assist its members became very strong. It took a few years but it eventually became a reality in 1985 when it became incorporated.
The Eighties – An Independent Association is Formed
From 1980 onwards, there was an influx of new members with little or no connection to the NSW ParaQuad Association, and this saw the push for independence grow stronger with many members committed to developing an autonomous body with its own Charter and Constitution. Kevin Betts, Ashley Coops, Bill Dudenhoeffer, Dr John Grant, Jeff Wiseman as well as Dr Yeo, and other Club members drafted the first Constitution which initially was not acceptable to Paraquad.
However after further work and more discussions, the Constitution was finally accepted and the ‘Club’ became independent of the Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association. The Annual General Report of the Paraplegic Association on 5 June 1985 states that “during the year the Association relinquished its control of sport to the NSW Wheelchair Sports Association – as the Sports Club is now reconstituted. The Association will continue to offer office facilities to the sportsmen for as long as they are required, and we welcome their presence and congratulate them in their ever-expanding involvement with sport”.
Between the late ’70s and late ’80s, the ‘Club’ made the transition from a sports club to a structured and more efficient state-wide association. After becoming an autonomous body it then became the aim of the club to incorporate, and this was achieved in January 1987 when it became the NSW Wheelchair Sports Association Inc. The impetus for all these changes came entirely from within the Association’s ranks. In 2006 there was a further change when the Association formally became Wheelchair Sports NSW Inc.
The first Wheelchair Tennis Tournament was held at the Cumberland College of Health Sciences on 23rd May 1982. The inaugural NSW Wheelchair Tennis Titles were held in December 1983 at the same venue.
The Association’s first real office was in Sports House, Gloucester Street in the Rocks. The NSW State Government purchased a large old office building in the Rocks to set up Sports House as a short-term solution to house small sporting organisations, until the completion of a building at Wentworth Park, and additional offices at the State Sports Centre, Homebush Bay. Prior to this, meetings had always been held around someone’s kitchen table. Although the Association had been ‘promised’ an accessible office at Homebush Bay when that building was completed, the office at Sports House was almost totally inaccessible. This later led to a move to a small office within the ParaQuad Association’s premises in Auburn.
The Association decided to move to its newly completed Stadium at Mt Druitt just prior to the official opening in May 1986. The office remained at Mt Druitt until August 1990. It was decided in the ’90s to investigate relocating the office to a more central location next to a rehabilitation hospital because it was seen to be of greater benefit for everyone.
In 1990, the Ryde Royal Rehabilitation Hospital was approached to provide office space for the Association at the hospital, preferably near the Moorong Spinal Unit. The driving force behind this project was Chris Sparks with long time supporters of wheelchair sport, Dr Yeo, the Hon. John Brown AO (then Federal Minister for Sport) and head nurse Ian McDonald. These ‘Friends of Moorong’ came up with a perfect solution – 300 sq. ft of office space in the Morgue!
Four months later with the dissection table out of the way, refrigerators removed, ghostbusters called in and an incredible renovation job, thanks to an army of volunteers, the old Morgue was ready to be the new office! It was opened in August 1990.
Purpose built Office at Ryde Royal Rehabilitation Hospital
In 1992, new office premises were proposed for the Association when it was offered the opportunity to incorporate offices into planned sporting facilities at the Royal Rehabilitation Centre’s Moorong Spinal Unit. The “Friends of Moorong” fundraising committee organised funds for the construction of a 12 ½ metre indoor pool, tennis/basketball courts, a large recreation room and a clubhouse incorporating offices for the Association. In return for a long term lease, the Association would also contribute some funding to the building.
Thanks to a magnificent fundraising effort by volunteers, members, and supporters, the Association moved into the current building in 1993. John Newcombe officially opened the new Moorong Sports Facilities on 14 November 1993. In 2010, the Association is still located at these premises although the planned redevelopment of the whole site will result in another move in the future.
In the ’90s with the rapid increase in membership well beyond the focus of the original 1961 Paraplegic Sports Club, it was generally felt that the main focus of the Constitution and the organisation should now be on supporting and developing wheelchair sport in NSW. So a new Constitution was developed and accepted at the Annual General Meeting on 22 June 1994, and the first full-time CEO was employed in 1991.
The Noughties – The Age of Professionalism and International Events
During this period, the name was changed from NSW Wheelchair Sports Association Inc. to Wheelchair Sports NSW (WS NSW), thus bringing it into line with other sporting organisations. This change was approved by the members at the Annual General Meeting in 2006.
The earlier introduction of computers, employment of paid professional staff, increased government funding and corporate support had modernised the operations of the Association and it had become a more professional organisation. The level of funding and support had changed dramatically and this in turn changed what the Association was now able to offer its members.
2001 MAA Arrive Alive Roadshow
In 2001, the Motor Accidents Authority (MAA) agreed to sponsor Roadshow, another flagship program for the organisation. This program is a significant contributor to raising public awareness and knowledge of spinal cord injury and the benefits of participating in disability sport. The Roadshow is conducted under the MAA’s Arrive Alive banner.
The presenters are all wheelchair athletes who visit schools, community centres, tertiary institutions and hospitals to educate students and the general public about spinal cord injury, individual responsibility and the various benefits of wheelchair sport. The presentations also contain a strong road safety message.
NSW Sports Organisation of the Year 2008
WS NSW won this very prestigious award despite intense competition from opponents like Netball NSW, Football NSW and Surf Life Saving NSW. These other organisations are extremely well resourced and have incredible membership numbers. The Award is a testimony to all the hard work by staff, volunteers and members, and the risk taking, celebrations of disability sport, profile and credibility that have built up over many years.
This Award particularly recognised our work in 2008 in presenting two major international events, namely the Arrive Alive Summer Down Under Wheelchair Racing Series and the 20th Anniversary of the Sydney International Wheelchair Tennis Open.
Oz Day 10K and the Summer Down Under Road and Track Racing Series
The initial aims of the event were to encourage more wheelchair users to become involved in sport, provide a greater range of elite sporting opportunities, particularly moving towards greater integration with existing events and to raise the public profile of the organisation and wheelchair sports. It has certainly achieved these aims.
The first Oz Day 10K Race was held on 26th January 1990. It was a fun-filled day in Centennial Park with both local and international wheelies competing in wheelchairs, although state of the art at that time, were far less sophisticated than the racing wheelchairs available these days. The race was held in conjunction with an able-bod fun run and it was anticipated the wheelies race would also have a bit of a fun run approach.
The Race continues to be held in the Rocks and is still part of the official program of celebrations for Australia Day. It has become a highly regarded race in the international wheelchair racing calendar and every year attracts many overseas competitors. Each year the Premier of NSW hosts an official Reception for the competitors, sponsors and supporters of WS NSW.
Fundraising in the early days was a haphazard affair with members using a more individual approach organising raffles, the “Worlds Finest Chocolates”, barbecues and seeking donations to raise funds for their sports and financial independence from the NSW Paraquad Association.
In the early days, the athletes had to not only organise the events but also fundraise to be able to participate. The athletes used to travel all over New South Wales fundraising so they could attend competitions and sharing any surplus monies with other wheelchair sporting groups around the State.
Today’s members are used to a very different Association. They have a fully staffed organisation, that looks after the fundraising as well as the running of programs and events which enables members to arrive and participate. Members can apply annually for financial support to enter competitions, travel, training, equipment and coaching.
Junior Wheelchair Sport
a) Junior National Games
Thanks to the extraordinary hard work of Yvonne and Bob Talbott, a team of 19 juniors were selected to go to the first Junior National Wheelchair Games which were hosted by Wheelchair Sports SA in 1981. Approximately 100 young people from all over Australia attended and this was the beginning of the national competition for juniors with a spinal cord disability. Over the years these Games have seen some outstanding junior athletes progress to an international elite level. As well, the benefits for many young participants included opportunities for social activities, increased independence, and participation to the best of their ability.
Following the success of these Games it was agreed to hold the Junior National Wheelchair Games every two years in a different State, hosted by each State Wheelchair Sports Association. This has continued to the present day with Yvonne Talbott being involved with every Junior Games since 1981.
b) Junior Come ‘N’ Try Days
These days give juniors the opportunity to try a range of different sports under the guidance and mentoring of our coaches and more experienced members. These days have been operating since 1982 and continue to be held monthly in Sydney and in other regional centres in NSW and still provide much satisfaction and enjoyment to juniors.
c) Annual Junior Christmas Camps
On 19th December 1983, the first Junior Christmas camp was organised by the well-known Yvonne Talbott, or “Mrs T” as she is affectionately known, and Professor Graeme Watts, then Deputy Principal and later Principal, of the Cumberland College of Health Sciences at Lidcombe. Although the Camps were initially held at Lidcombe they are now held at Narrabeen Sports Centre.
The 1998 Gold Cup – World Wheelchair Basketball Championships
The 1998 Gold Cup was a massive watershed event that really captivated the attention of the general public and was widely acclaimed as the best Gold Cup ever, putting disability sport on the map. It was seen as the pinnacle of wheelchair sporting events in Australia and was the first time the world championships had been held in Sydney.
This Gold Cup was the major test event for the 2000 Paralympic Games with teams from Australia, Canada, France, USA, Great Britain, Finland, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Egypt competing. It was well understood by the Sydney Olympic Organising Committee, WS NSW and various international bodies that it was important to secure the training and accreditation of officials, referees, venues and administration support across a wide range of sport disciplines for the 2000 Paralympics. It was also the first Gold Cup that the men’s and women’s world championships were played together and this format has continued ever since. The Championships were extremely successful and were televised daily on the ABC.
The Future – Where to from here?
WS NSW today is a well established, well managed organisation that conducts international events in tennis, road racing, basketball and rugby as well as National and State events in twelve different wheelchair sports. In fact WS NSW leads the way in organised events such as the Arrive alive Summer Down Under Track and Road Racing Series, the Sydney International Wheelchair Tennis Open, Junior Nationals, Men and Women’s Gold Cup Wheelchair Basketball and International Wheelchair Rugby Championships.
There has been a change in the public perception of disability over the years. For instance, in the 80’s people were beginning to challenge the notion of disability and in the 90’s that movement resulted in an explosion of a new sense of professionalism in disability sport. Wheelchair sport has been especially effective in encouraging and assisting a wide range of people to begin putting their lives together.
Although the Association has successfully made the transition from a social club to a professional, well managed and corporate structured organisation, there is still the need to provide a wide range of activities, programs and events for individuals with a wide range of abilities and interests. The organisation has always been member-driven and it will continue to be so in the future. The focus will be on supporting and developing the membership of both elite and non-elite wheelchair members by offering opportunities to all abilities, ages, stages and classifications. The Association has members ranging from eight to eighty years of age who are offered a variety of sports and sporting levels. The stages go right from entry level or grassroots juniors to an eighty year old who loves playing lawn bowls at a local club and who participates in State Championships. As well there are the world class athletes who are at the top of their sport like Kurt Fearnley OAM and, prior to her retirement, Louise Sauvage, Patron of WS NSW.
Volunteers have been the lifeblood of the organisation since its inception and although WS NSW will remain a professionally managed sporting organisation, volunteers will continue to play a crucial role in its activities, events and management.