Pupils from Fountaindale School had a day to remember last week as they travelled to the home of cricket to take part in the Lord’s Taverners National Table Cricket Finals.
The Mansfield-based school’s side were one of 12 to compete in the Nursery Pavilion, at Lord’s Cricket Ground, for the right to call themselves national champions.
Teacher Leonnie Mangan, 38, was overwhelmed with pride watching her team perform, but she was particularly proud of one student, Natasha Siddall – who played in the finals just one day after having her leg amputated.
“Natasha was in hospital all week and she really fought hard to come to this competition because it means the world to her,” said Mangan.
“All of her family were rooting for her and told the hospital staff how important the competition was to her, so they worked around the clock to make sure she could be here.
“They gave her the right dressings and antibiotics to make sure she could play.
“She was released from hospital at 5:45pm on Thursday night, and she arrived at school at 5am on Friday morning ready to travel to the finals.
“She’s been so courageous and spent the whole day smiling. It really does prove how important table cricket is in my students’ lives.”
“Table cricket has been life-changing for our students. Everyone can get involved, from students who have had their legs amputated to those who can’t use their arms. It’s so special because it makes disability sport cool.”
More than 400 schools and nearly 8,000 disabled young people took part during the heats of the competition, now into its 21st year, which is made possible thanks to the support of players of the People’s Postcode Lottery and Ford.
Played on a table tennis table with side panels and sliding fielders, a ball launcher, weighted plastic ball and wooden bat, table cricket enables young people with severe physical and learning disabilities to enjoy cricket and represent their school on a competitive basis.
The game not only gives opportunities for competitive play and social integrations, it also improves life-skills including self-confidence, independence and social skills. An enhanced role for the captain also allows for the development of leadership skills.
Year 13 pupil Ben Green, 18, never expected he would be lucky enough to play his favourite sport at Lord’s.
“Playing at Lord’s feels so special because we did not expect to qualify for the finals,” he said.
“I love table cricket because I think it’s a great sport for disabled people. I love doing everything from hitting the ball to bowling and fielding.”
Watching on at Lord’s was Radio 1 DJ, cricket lover and Lord’s Taverners Table Cricket Ambassador Greg James, as well as Middlesex wicketkeeper and Lord’s Taverners ambassador John Simpson.
And BBC star James was excited to see the charity making cricket available to people of all abilities.
"Table cricket needs its own particular set of skills and the kids in the Finals were very skilled at it," said James.
"Coming to Lord's is always exciting - I was blown away the first time I came – and they will have made lifelong memories from playing there.
"Sport is for all, which is why it's so good the Taverners gave the kids this opportunity."
The Lord’s Taverners is the UK’s leading youth cricket and disability sports charity whose aim is to give disadvantaged and disabled young people a sporting chance – go to www.lordstaverners.org to find out more