Wheelchair basketball teams from North Wales are punching well above their weight in the UK national leagues after clinching a three-year sponsorship deal.
Housing association Cartrefi Conwy are backing regional club North Wales Knights who run four teams with players based at sports centres at Rhyl, Penrhyn Bay and Anglesey.
They run mixed sides competing in Division One and Division Three of the National League, a women’s team and a mixed Under-18 and Cartrefi Conwy’s support aims to keep them competitive.
They are certainly making waves in the physical world of wheelchair basketball with the first team third in Division One and the seconds in the play-offs for promotion to Division Two.
The Women’s team just missed out on winning Division One of their league and the Under-18s have qualified for the Junior League final in May.
Head of Basketball Mike Hayes, a former Paralympic athlete and a leading light of wheelchair basketball in North Wales, said: “We’re hugely grateful to Cartrefi Conwy for their support which is key to us being able to run the Knights successfully.
“Back in 2010 when we started the Rhyl Raptors there wasn’t any wheelchair basketball in North Wales at all but now we have Conwy Thunder and Anglesey Hawks and the Knights are drawn from the three clubs.
“They have been going since 2015 and have really gone from strength to strength and enable us to compete at a national level which we wouldn’t be able to do as individual clubs.
“We’ve seen a massive growth in the game with 40 players now in the Knights squads and we’re punching well above our weight and competing against massive clubs from cities like London and Glasgow.”
The agreement with main sponsors Cartrefi Conwy enables the Knights, who play their home fixtures at St Asaph Leisure Centre, to travel to matches across the UK and to hold their own against big city opposition in a fast-growing sport.
Cartrefi have been hands on in their relationship and Nia Williams, a housing officer based at their Abergele headquarters, volunteers with the Rhyl Raptors club which meets at Rhyl Leisure Centre.
Nia, from Rhyl, said: “Cartrefi Conwy organised a taster session and there were 30 staff members there and I just loved it so much I wanted to get involved.
“Mike messaged me and I’ve been helping out since last October, coming along and setting everything up for the kids and joining in with them.
“It’s just amazing. They’re just smiling all the time and the way they have developed has been fantastic and they’re lovely.
“I had never volunteered before in my life but this means I’m able to give something back to the community and it’s brilliant that Cartrefi are able to support it.”
Mark Richards, who works for Conwy County Council, is Secretary of Wheelchair Basketball North Wales and Chair of Conwy Thunder and he said: “We need a regional team to allow us to compete in a British league.
“By pooling our resources we can provide more opportunities for young players to play at this level but it’s huge to have the support of Cartrefi Conwy because we just couldn’t do it without that financial investment.
“It is very much a two-way street as we can provide Cartrefi Conwy staff with training and insight for their staff and opportunities for health and well-being for their tenants.”
Mike added: “When we started in 2010 there was nothing like this and people just didn’t know there was a world of sport out there for people like me.
“Now we’ve got one of the best Under-18s teams on the country and we’ve won UK league titles multiple times so it just shows all talent needs is opportunity and that’s down to Cartrefi Conwy.”