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Grassroots volunteers to be honoured at SONI Community Rugby Champions awards

By Jonathan Bradley

The first SONI Community Rugby Champions Award will be handed out at tonight’s Ulster Rugby Awards Dinner.

Four worthy finalists have been nominated with the winner set to take a £1,000 bursary back to their club while each runner-up will net £500.

Encompassing an amazing range of roles and experience, the quartet up for the award are Grace Davitt of Cooke Women RFC, Ballymoney’s Katie Speers, and Stephen Nutt and Willie Gribben of Ards and Portadown respectively.

Here, we look at the nominees:

Name: Grace Davitt

Club: Cooke RFC

Role: Women's Head Coach

Why do you volunteer? "I want to pass on the knowledge I have received from great coaches and for players to get the enjoyment I have from playing such a great sport. I also want to encourage as many girls and women to play rugby. Volunteers are invaluable to community rugby and without them many children and people would be unable to take part. These volunteers keep clubs alive and running smoothly. Most volunteers have experienced the positive effects that rugby brings and want to continue this on for others."

Name: Katie Speers

Club: Ballymoney RFC

Role: Minis-coach, Head of Fundraising, First Aid Officer

Why do you volunteer? "I have received immense satisfaction from previously taking a group of children through the different age groups to Maxi level. I pride myself in giving these children a start in rugby. These children have now grown into young adults playing at various levels. As I have matured, my vision for the club has also grown, encouraging me to fulfil the various roles I hold. The success of the events I have previously co -ordinated has given me an appetite to organise more, drawing new faces into the club."

Name: Stephen Nutt

Club: Ards RFC

Role: Director of rugby

Why do you volunteer? "Community rugby is what I'm all about, it's great to be able to do something positive with young players and see them progress from mini rugby to youth or school's rugby then to adult rugby. You see these players develop into teenagers then young adults and then parents, it's great to think that you may have influenced them to make the right decisions in their life and instil in them skills including like teamwork, camaraderie, resilience, respect, pride, discipline, a work ethic and the ability to interact with others.

Name: Willie Gribben

Club: Portadown RFC

Role: Chairman of Portadown Panthers Learning Disability Tag Rugby

Why do you volunteer: "My inspiration comes from seeing people enjoy themselves, achieve things that they felt that they could never achieve and seeing growth in their self-esteem and confidence. As a teacher I always felt that every child was capable of achieving and always had something of value to offer. My job was to find that something. As a volunteer in the community rugby my role is no different but now I deal with adults as well as children so I still have to find that something that makes people feel valued."

SONI is the electricity system operator for Northern Ireland.

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