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23/09/2021

Derry wheelchair basketball coach gets ‘Big Surprise’ from Harlem Globetrotters

lottery
A Derry wheelchair basketball coach has been honoured by National Lottery’s ‘Big Surprise’ by meeting his favourite basketball team, the Harlem Globetrotters. Jason Kennedy, Head Coach and Chairman Knights Wheelchair Basketball Club, was the unwitting recipient of the National Lottery’s ‘Big Surprise’ - which recognises individuals who have made a real difference with the help of National Lottery funding. Jason’s ‘Big Surprise’ aired on Saturday night on UTV, which is a 90-second weekly slot during the ad break of Saturday night primetime UTV/ITV shows. The Knights were founded in 1990 to help give disabled people the opportunity to get involved in team sport. Jason originally came to coach a single session but 18 years later he’s still volunteering at the club and his list of responsibilities has grown to include Head Coach, Club Chairman, fundraising organiser and ever-reliable taxi driver. The club now has over 50 players from across Northern Ireland taking part with ages ranging from as young as seven right up to players in their 40s. Head Coach Jason and The Knights travel across the UK and further afield to compete in various wheelchair basketball leagues, with a recent success story being local star, James McSorley, who last year won an under-23 world championship with the GB Wheelchair Basketball Team. The Knights Wheelchair Basketball Club was awarded over £29,000 of National Lottery funding to help them provide opportunities for disabled people to get involved in team sport and continue to promote a healthy lifestyle for disabled people and encourage more social inclusion. The Knights have around 20 volunteers who give up their own time to support the club and help out at weekly training sessions at their two main training venues at Antrim Forum Sports Centre in Antrim and The Hammer Youth Centre in Belfast. For Jason’s ‘Big Surprise’, The National Lottery arranged for him to meet his favourite team, The Harlem Globetrotters, at a recent game at the Bournemouth International Centre. Jason enjoyed a special meet and greet with the team who presented him with a signed ball and even asked him to do the honorary ‘tip off’ at the beginning of the game. The National Lottery filmed the heart-warming results. Fellow Knights Wheelchair Basketball Club member, Neil Carlisle, believes that no one deserved ‘The Big Surprise’ more than Jason. “Jason has continually been a great coach and mentor to our junior players and senior players alike and I really can think of no one better suited than him,” said Neil. Jason was more than taken back with his ‘Big Surprise’, and said, “It’s been fantastic, I wasn’t expecting this whatsoever - it’s been completely out of the blue. I was just coming here to watch the game and it’s just been such as surprise and really nice as well.” Jason said he is a man that rarely loses track of what’s going on but that he was well and truly duped and pleasantly surprised by meeting his Harlem heroes – the Globetrotters. “It definitely was a surprise, it was a total set-up and I was in shock because I wasn’t expecting it at all,” he said. “It was a real privilege to be recognised and for someone to go of their way and nominate me and it was really great to get the recognition for the club and for the sport of wheelchair basketball. “It was a big production and there was a lot of filming and interviews but they really got me, it was a complete ruse! “I thought I was going for something else and we had just had the Cup Final the day before in Dublin so I was tired and that probably helped them surprise me as I wasn’t expecting it! “I’ve been the Chairman for a number of years at the club and I’m used to always knowing what’s going on but this completely surprised me. It was absolutely brilliant!” Jason is passionate about wheelchair basketball and was keen to plug a ‘brand new’ Derry-based team, North West Wolves. “There is a brand new Derry team, North West Wolves, who are very, very keen; they train in the Foyle Arena and they have senior and junior teams,” he said. “The team is run by Diane Gillen and two of its team members have been selected for the Northern Ireland Team; Dylan Wade and Samantha McColgan. “There are loads of people in Derry and the North West involved in wheelchair basketball, you don’t have to be in a wheelchair to enjoy it, it’s a great sport. “When I got involved, I didn’t think it was something that would be for me but here I am 18 years later still loving it and it’s a great sport for people with disabilities.” For more information on National Lottery funding please visit: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk For more information on Knights Wheelchair Basketball Club please visit: http://www.niknightswbc.co.uk/

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