How a group of year 8 volunteers are encouraging inclusiveness in sport

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What originally started as swimming training for a young boy with cerebral palsy has since evolved into an entire program dedicated to all abilities sport, including cricket, and is run by a group of Year 8 volunteers from Firbank Girls Grammar School, aptly named the Firbank Allstars.

Firbank Allstars was born from Lucy Weddell’s desire to help children living with a disability defy the odds when it came to playing sport. A swimming teacher at Firbank, Lucy first saw Sam Higgins swim at a local school carnival and was in awe as he completed two laps of a 25m pool with the cheers and echoes of the entire school ringing in the background.   

“Lots of people thought he wasn’t going to make it, but as a spectator to see him achieve it was phenomenal. I offered to assist him further and within 18 months, he won three gold medals at the state championship.”

Sam, who started school in a wheelchair, now runs the 3km course in cross country and is the catalyst for the creation of Firbank Allstars.

“Over those two laps of the pool, Sam displayed great courage, resilience and determination and the whole school was cheering for him. It was phenomenal. I offered to assist him with his swimming and within 18 months he won three gold medals at the state championship,” said Lucy.

The Firkbank Allstars program helps children with a disability gain the skills and confidence to participate in sport and since running a four-week pilot late last year, the program has grown from 6 to 16 Allstars.

Today, the program runs every Wednesday afternoon and focuses on two sports a term in three-week spurts and is run by a handful of Year 8 volunteers from Firbank Grammar, with the help of Peter Russo, the Director of Sport at Firbank Grammar School.  

Having just finished a 3-week focus on cricket, two Allstars have gone on to register their interest in joining a local cricket club, proof that the program is a great platform to encourage participation in a larger setting.

“We’ve discovered that we’re a good stepping stone; there’s a big gap between playing in the park with mum and dad to playing at a club level,” said Lucy.

“The confidence builder and the bridge to joining a club or team sport are very interesting.”

Lucy said the benefits of the program are two-fold. The Allstars are gaining the skills and confidence to play sport and the girls who volunteer are learning the value of inclusiveness in society.

“When we first asked for the girls to volunteer we had so much interest that we were actually oversubscribed; we didn’t want to turn people away so due to the popularity, we’ll rotate eight girls per term so that 32 girls help each year.”

Peter, who also volunteers at the sessions, has already seen the amazing difference it has made on the volunteers and the participants.

“The girls will typically take the warm up for about 5-10 minutes and play games to get everyone active and excited. Then when we’re in the body of the sessions, the girls are there to help and support them, it’s all about positive reinforcement. I think their influence is fantastic.

“It is a genuine win-win situation. The girls themselves get an enormous sense of worth out of it as they can see the difference they make, and sport is a fantastic medium for self-esteem and confidence to grow in the kids participating.

“A lot of different sporting organisations are introducing inclusive programs, which is great, as it means there are opportunities for these kids to venture into a mainstream sport,” said Peter.

The Firbank Allstars story is part of Cricket Australia’s Community Champion initiative, which seeks to share the stories of local heroes making cricket a great game for all.

Know someone whose story deserves to be told? Nominate your Community Champion here