Lisburn-based Ballymacash Sports Academy is hosting a football tournament this week for teams of pupils from schools for children with special educational needs.
Young people from all over Northern Ireland will compete for the Bluebell and Parkview trophies on May 16 and 17.
The participating schools come from Lisburn, Belfast, Strabane, Omagh, Downpatrick and Portadown.
It is the second time the tournament has been run and, as demand to take part is so high, it was decided to run it over two days, one day for primary and the second for post-primary schools.
Ballymacash Sports Academy is a recently formed co-operative which has huge plans not only to develop the sports ground and clubhouse in Lisburn but also to increase the accessibility of sport for all.
Neil Woolsey from Ballymacash Sports Academy said: “Last year we had 12 schools with 140 children involved. The demand is even greater this year so we have decided to run it for an extra day. The tournament last year was the highlight of our year and seeing the kids enjoying the day was fantastic.
“This is the only special needs tournament run by a club in Northern Ireland. The children usually travel to each other’s school to play so it’s great to get them all together in a competition. We want them to have a great day out. The aim of our academy is ‘sport for all’ and this is the type of community event we intend to hold more of in the future.”
Eight junior schools will compete for the Bluebell Cup on May 16, while the senior schools will take part in the Parkview Cup on May 17. Both days will include a visit from ‘Footie’, the Northern Ireland football team mascot and also a barbecue for hungry players and supporters.
The idea for the tournament came about when James Curran, principal of Parkview Special School in Lisburn, visited the Bluebell Ground, home of Ballymacash Rangers FC and location for the new community owned Sports Academy.
The club has held fundraising events for the school and instead of presenting the latest cheque at Parkview they invited him to come to the ground.
Mr Curran was so impressed by the facilities that he came up with the great idea of holding an NI-wide tournament for special schools.
He said: “Ballymacash has been very supportive, raising thousands of pounds for the school. I was invited to see the facilities and thought it was perfect for a tournament so I sent out an email to my colleagues and was overwhelmed by the response.
“We had our first tournament last year and Ballymacash provided the referees, trophies and the catering. Last year we ran it in the week of the floods but the sun shone on the day and it was a great event. We had lots of supporters and it created such a buzz.
“One of the referees said that Premiership footballers could learn a lot from the manners and sportsmanship exhibited by our young players.”
While last year’s event was funded solely by Ballymacash Rangers FC, this year, Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council have provided some funding to grow the tournament.
The Bluebell ground is home to Ballymacash Sports Academy, Northern Ireland’s first sporting community benefit society – a type of co-operative – in order to give local people a chance to become members and to be involved in the future of the facility.
They have ambitious plans for a £1.5m community sports academy which will include a new clubhouse, gym, a 250 seat stand and a cryospa.
The project will be part-financed by a £120,000 community share offer, which will enable the public to buy a stake in the new academy and receive a return on their investment.
Its share offer will be launched on June 13 with the help of the Building Change Trust’s Community Shares Ready! Programme run by Co-operative Alternatives, an organisation set up in Northern Ireland to promote and raise awareness of co-operatives and community benefit societies.
For more information visit the Ballymacash Sports Academy Facebook and Twitter pages or the new website - www.ballymacashsportsacademy.org