University of Huddersfield lecturer and sports historian PETER DAVIES looks at a club for disabled sports enthusiasts in Kirklees
CARDINALS Wheelchair Sports Club is the main organisation for disabled sports enthusiasts in Kirklees.
"We provide wheelchair sports for everyone," its website proudly proclaims.
"Our main sports are basketball, rugby league and tennis.
"As a club we work alongside West Yorkshire sports and help the local schools in our community learn about disabilities and sports.
"Some of our members volunteer to do this work - they take a few hours every week to help keep the club and the community linked."
The club was named after an American sports club, but club spokesman Dave Heatherill isn't totally sure which one.
"One of the guys who helped form the club had just been to the States on holiday.
"We were throwing around a few names and he mentioned `The Cardinals' as a possibility.
"I think it may have been the St Louis Cardinals baseball team.
"Anyway, the name just stuck!"
Mr Heatherill, 57, lives in Dalton, Huddersfield, and the club meets at Whitcliffe Mount Sports Centre at Turnsteads Avenue, Cleckheaton.
It was founded in 1994 as an outlet for local disabled athletes - juniors and adults - to participate in competitive sport.
The club actually grew out of another wheelchair sports organisation, the Bradford Bears.
Mr Heatherill and a group of other keen sportsmen were Bears members, but they wanted to diversify away from playing only wheelchair basketball - the staple fare of the Bradford club.
So they established the Cardinals.
Mr Heatherill said: "Some disabled people aren't interested in playing sport or are too shy, or are scared of making a fool of themselves.
"We've found that often they need a friend to introduce them to the club, so word of mouth and support and encouragement play a big part in helping us recruit new members.
"And that's why we've started putting on taster sessions in local schools and colleges – to spread the word that everyone can enjoy sport and we are here to cater for wheelchair athletes."
True to their word, the founding fathers of the club offer local people across Kirklees and Calderdale a variety of sports, rather just the one or two.
They can play basketball, tennis, ice hockey, `tag' rugby, or go sailing, gliding, canoeing or skiing.
"Wheelchair sport is now very popular," says Mr Heatherill.
"Twenty years ago there were so many restrictions.
"You could only really play basketball, but in recent years sport has become so much more accessible for disabled people.
"The key thing is to take part and enjoy yourself."
The club welcomes the able-bodied and disabled – mainly amputees, paraplegics and polio victims.
If able-bodied people join up, they also use wheelchairs.
However, there are still major problems for a sports club like the Cardinals to overcome – like sponsorship.
"Kirklees Council have been very good to us," comments Mr Heatherill, "but as a club we don't have a main sponsor, so we have to go out looking for small amounts of money to help us continue to function.
"Recently we played up in Edinburgh, so there are obviously travelling expenses and hotel bills to cover and these are big outlays.
"We also have to purchase specially- adapted wheelchairs for individual players and these can cost between £1,500 and £3,000 each.
"Sports Match is a viable proposition – where every £1,000 we can raise is matched by that organisation.
"But we rely on contributions from organisations such as the Local Network Fund, the Lord's Taverners, the Community Foundation for Calderdale, Garforth Lions and Barclays.
"It is still a major challenge to cover all our costs."
The growth of the Paralympic movement has certainly raised the profile of wheelchair sport.
"We play in Division 3 of the regionalised wheelchair basketball league," states Mr Heatherill, who is Huddersfield born and bred.
"If we were playing in the Premier Division we'd be playing against athletes who have represented Great Britain at the Paralympics.
"But I suppose that we are a feeder club at the moment – our best players go on to compete at a higher level with other clubs.
"Disabled sport gets far more coverage in the media than it ever used to.
"There was an exhibition match of wheelchair tennis at Wimbledon last year – and all this helps get the message across about sport for all."
Today the Cardinals meet for training at Whitcliffe Mount every Wednesday evening.
They also play at Deighton Sports Arena and Huddersfield Tennis Club.
The club has 80 members – both playing and social – and it is keen to expand.
The local rivals are the Bears and the wheelchair sports club based in Sheffield.
Mr Heatherill goes on: "Sport is a great way to meet people.
"I recently travelled to France to take part in a triangular rugby league competition – playing fixtures against sides from France and Australia.
"It was a great experience."