A RETIRED teacher has been crowned participation volunteer of the year for encouraging borough children to play squash.
John Shears picked up the nationally recognised award after being nominated by head coach of Solihull Arden Club Chris Ryder for his determined efforts to raise awareness and opportunity for young people to play his favourite sport.
The 68-year-old received his award at the annual Polar Squash Workforce Awards – hosted at the Allam British Open in Hull – which celebrates those who have made outstanding commitment and contribution to the sport.
John was first inspired to play squash in his late 30s after previously playing the popular grammar school version of the game ‘fives’ when he was younger.
John retired from playing squash eight years ago and has since gained his level two squash coaching award and has helped to train the junior players at Solihull Arden club.
He now coaches three times a week at Sharman’s Cross School – each class consisting of two groups of 16, meaning up to 96 children play squash each week under his tuition.
John said: “Squash has a gentler cousin, racketball, that can be played by all abilities and ages.
“At our club we have mini squash players aged three and a racketball player in our leagues aged 91.
“Two commonly heard phrases uttered by squash players are I wish I had started playing at a younger age and I want to give something back to the sport.
“However circumstances are different with everyone and time is precious depending on work and family commitments but I am lucky to work with a large group of volunteers at Solihull Arden Club who love the sport.”
During Autumn 2014, John launched an initiative to get squash on the curriculum for pupils in year three.
Sharman’s Cross School gave John permission to construct a permanent mini squash court in the playground so children could play informally while John was coaching others in the sports hall.
He even worked with a year five class for three afternoons to design the court as a design and technology project – the court was based on the winning design.
Chris Ryder, who nominated John for the award, said: “Every squash club has enthusiasts who love the sport and every club has one person who goes above and beyond to make things happen.
“What makes John stand out is his experience as a teacher and his ability to work with large groups of children and get them excited about the sport, active and playing.
“There has been an overwhelming response to his coaching programmes.
“John’s greatest impact has been in increasing the profile of the club in the local community.
“The number of visitors to the club, the number of junior players in particular and the number of opportunities for players to play, compete and achieve success has grown greatly because of his efforts.”