Bill McIntyre from Strabane has emerged from hundreds of nominees as overall winner of the Hughes Insurance Sports Volunteer Awards, which recognise the unsung heroes of local sport
Bill is one of 12 regional winners selected from hundreds of volunteers nominated from a wide range of sports and was chosen for his work with the Strabane & District Special Olympics Club.
Bill founded the local Special Olympics Club over seven years ago and in doing so provided a welcoming sporting environment for people with physical and learning disabilities to enable them to develop their skills.
He coaches athletes in six sports – athletics, swimming, 10-pin bowling, football, basketball and bocce.
Bill – who himself uses a wheelchair and thus has a unique understanding of the challenges the athletes face – has been praised as being "a great leader, role-model and coach".
He takes time to get to understand each athlete's capabilities, with a wide age range of six to 63.
The aim of the awards – judged by an independent panel including Belfast Telegraph Group Sports Editor Jim Gracey – was to unearth the true sporting heroes in our community.
What made Bill stand out was his dedication and patience in creating and maintaining a unique club for those with disabilities to participate in sport and feel accepted and comfortable.
Olympic gold medallist Dame Mary Peters presented Bill with his Overall Sports Volunteer Award at one of his Special Olympics basketball training sessions in Strabane. He was presented with a £500 prize while his club received £1,000 to support their activities over the next year.
Brian McDowell, Head of Sales and Marketing at Hughes Insurance, said: "There is some absolutely amazing work being done by sports volunteers in our community and we want to thank everyone who took the time to nominate people from all over Northern Ireland.
"We are also delighted to announce Bill as our winner and give him the recognition he deserves. We witnessed his work first hand and were genuinely moved by the sheer enjoyment the group were getting from the class. This is all driven by Bill – his passion and commitment to his club was there for all to see.
"He is such a genuine and modest man, yet he sets an example to everyone who supports sport in the community.
"The quality of entries was so high it was very difficult to select only 12 winners.
"We are already looking forward to next year and the chance to reward more volunteers for their dedication and hard work."
The other regional winners were Robin Bambridge, Newtownards, Capall Riding Club; Leonard Blakely, Newry, Moneyslane FC; Paddy Kelly, Coleraine, St Mary's GAC Rasharkin (GAA); Jim Gordon and Debbie Peachey (joint winners), Newtownabbey, Mossley Hockey Club and Mossley Ladies Hockey Club; Raymond Carton, Derry, Trojans FC; Eddie Mulligan, Belfast, Glendowan FC (football); Willie Gribben, Portadown, Portadown RFC; Robin Martin, Magherafelt, Moyola Park FC; John Clarke, Ballymena, Waveney Youth FC; Johnny McClenaghan (Young Sports Volunteer), Ballymoney Blaze Volleyball Club; Siobhan Leckey, Lisburn, Ophir Karate Association; Peadar McMahon (Lifetime Achievement), Clann Eireann GAC; Elizabeth Hamil, Ballynahinch, Down Community Ju-Jitsu Clubs.
Each winner received £200 as well as £500 for their club. The Lifetime Achievement and Young Sports Volunteers Award winners received £250.