Darwin Champions All Abilities
It’s shocking when you realise something you value so much isn’t available to everyone. For Chantelle Ayers seeing that there was no netball competition for disabled youth where she lived meant something had to be done. Which is why in 2018, with the help of the Confident Girls Foundation, Pints Netball club, Banks Bulldogs Club and Henbury, the local special needs school, formed two teams and created the inaugural All Abilities competition in Darwin.
Each week the teams would train and play. Pints coach Siobhan Evans recalls how the more experienced players would help those new to the sport, “everyone encouraged one another and helped the ones who weren’t confident, and they would remind each other of the rules.” One player on the Banks team had previously played basketball and would dribble the ball to the goals and take a shot, regardless of his position but with each week he learnt to ‘stick in the mud’ and by the end of the season wasn’t stepping.
As the two teams played each other throughout the year progress and community rapidly developed. If one team was down a player, the other team would gladly jump across and help out. Even during games, each team would accommodate and encourage one another; for Jocelyn Ryder on the Pints team, this meant everything. “She’s an absolute pocket rocket. Jocelyn has an intellectual disability and her left arm ends at her elbow. Everyone would rally around her during a game and the Banks team would allow her time to pick the ball up if she fumbled. It always left me amazed that she played the game with one hand! And she had a really hard pass on her right hand, could knock your head off,” says Evans.
It’s amazing watching people flourish, especially doing something that brings them joy. For Ayers, the program has been a reward for her just as much as it has been for the players, “to watch how much sport has improved a person’s cognitive ability, strength and friendships is simply awesome. These players are more than just people with all abilities, they’re true athletes with great skills! They have amazing fun and are such great people to have in our community”, said Ayers.
That’s especially true for Molly, who attends Henbury and played on the Banks team, the past season was one of great accomplishment. Molly has selective mutism and extreme anxiety which meant that often she would be afraid to put her hands up to catch the ball. However, through the support of the All Abilities community and the opportunity to practice during lunchtimes at school, she kept coming back each week and giving netball her all. Luckily, she did! As through her hard work she was selected for the NT intellectual disability team, the Dragonflies, which saw her travelling to Brisbane for the Marie Little Shield competition in October 2018. Another great outcome for a strong girl!
The program has also been an opportunity to bring the netball community closer and raise awareness around disabilities in general. Banks coach and Henbury teacher Raylee Parker says “the whole community was aware and engaged, most clubs knew who we were and on presentation night when everyone received their medals and towels like everyone else, it was amazing seeing them standing in front of over 100 other community members, being celebrated. Thank you for allowing every Australian to find their place in the netball community.”