Heather Walker founded the Fulton Hogan basketball league on one simple principle – inclusion.
Ten years on, the league has had more than 200 players with learning disabilities participate and new competitions have been created in football, cricket and multi-sport.
The success of the leagues, and her drive and dedication towards it, has seen Heather nominated in the community spirit section of the Pride of New Zealand Awards.
She says the success of the Fulton Hogan league has been teamwork, on and off the court. “There’s a big team of volunteers that run the league and keep it operating. There are more than 40 people who make it work.”
Heather started the league after coaching players with disabilities who could only practice. “They would practice and love it, but then, nothing. There were no games for them. Then, we had three big squads together and I decided ‘enough’, it’s time to start something up.”
She then went to the Nelson Basketball Association and had two requirements, the players be registered to the association and the league was to be played at the stadium where all the other basketballers played. “They had to be included and feel like they were playing in a proper league, not stuck out in some gym that nobody went to.”
Ten years on the league is still the only one of its kind in the country and Heather has helped start junior programmes in football and cricket for children with learning disabilities.
She says the ultimate goal is to make sure the leagues are sustainable and the Inclusion Sports Trust has been set up to ensure that.
All of Heather’s hours are voluntary and she can’t say exactly how many she does a week, other than “a lot”. She says she does it for love. “I’m really passionate about it and what these kids get out of it. So yeah, I do it because I love it.’
Nominations for the Pride of NZ Awards are now open. To nominate visit prideofnz.co.nz.