Local talent celebrated at North East Lincolnshire Sports Association awards night
Sporting success across North East Lincolnshire was celebrated at this year's North East Lincolnshire Sports Association awards night. Sports Editor Trevor Green reports on a great night
LEANNE Stephen is playing her part in helping to change the public's attitudes towards disabled sports people.
The Scartho starlet competed at the top level in wheelchair table tennis – the pinnacle being her appearance at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, back in 2010.
Funding issues forced her to take a back seat from competitive action – but since then she has been busy going into Grimsby-area schools and spreading positive messages about disability in sport.
In recognition of her good work over the last 12 months, she won the Young Persons' Services to Sport Award at the North East Lincolnshire Sports Awards on Saturday night.
Organised by NELSA and held at the Grimsby Institute's University Centre, the annual event was a celebration of local sporting success.
As featured in yesterday's Telegraph, Jamie Carter won two of the main awards – the Sports Personality of the Year and Disabled Sports Personality of the Year honours.
Stephen – the winner of last year's top award – was surprised to receive another one this time around.
She said: "I have been going into schools, talking about disability and hoping to make children more aware.
"I have been getting the message across that we are normal people, just some parts of our body don't work.
"I have also been coaching juniors and passing on my table tennis experiences.
"I did not think I would win this award. All the nominees have put so much effort in. I do not expect anything back for what I do, I do it because I want to."
Stephen believes this year's Paralympics in London has had a big effect on how the public perceive athletes with disabilities.
She said: "People warmed to it massively. Everyone watched the Paralympics, whereas a few years ago I don't think many people bothered.
"Most people can name at least one Paralympian, whereas a few years ago that would not have been the case.
"The television coverage was really good and people actually spent time to watch the events properly, rather than just having a flick. It reached a popularity that has not been seen before. I would never have imagined the crowds would have been so big."
The winner of this year's Junior Disabled Sports Personality of the Year Award was Chloe Osborne.
The Grimsby schoolgirl, who has hydrocephalus, has overcome many obstacles this year – including undergoing surgery to remove excess water from her brain.
But that has not stood in the way of sporting success – Osborne has excelled at table tennis and performed well at the National Junior Games this year.
She even won the award for best all-round girl competitor in her age group at the competition.
Osborne revealed that she has been motivated and inspired by the exploits of two of the area's other top disability sport stars – wheelchair racer Jamie Carter and fellow table tennis starlet Leanne Stephen.
She explained: "Jamie Carter helped get me into sport by introducing me to the Disability Sports Forum in Grimsby.
"Going along there on a Tuesday night was the starting point for me.
"Before that, I did not know of anywhere in the area where I could go and try out a lot of different sports.
I have a had a good year which has included the National Junior Games, where I did well in table tennis.
"As well as training at the Sports Forum, I also attend regional coaching sessions.
"Leanne Stephen is somebody I admire. She is the first person to really inspire me to keep going with sport.
"My aims for next year are to keep it up and continue to improve."
Looking to the future, Osborne has some big targets.
She added: "I would love to get to the Paralympics one day – either in table tennis or shot putt."
Mick Burnett, chairman of NELSA, said the awards night plays an important role in the local sporting calendar.
"It is a fantastic occasion," he said. "It is the first time we have held it at the Institute and they have done us proud.
"It is a celebration of sporting achievement within North East Lincolnshire.
"The awards cover the whole spectrum of sport – it is great to see dedicated people recognised.
"It is not just about the sportsmen and women, it also about the coaches, families and everyone who helps support them and plays a part in raising aspiration and attainment.
"It has been a great year for sport with the Olympics and Paralympics with lots of British medals won. It makes you feel proud watching all the British success.
"People talk about the Olympic legacy – well this is the grassroots Olympics.
"It is really important to keep awards nights like this going and make sure they continue to flourish. We should celebrate success."