It was the end of an era as the final Ballymena Borough Council Sports Awards under the present format took place last week.
Mayor of Ballymena, Councillor Audrey Wales, said the 17th year of the popular awards was “particularly poignant” as it was the last ceremony before the local government reform which will see Ballymena join Larne and Carrick Councils under the new Mid and East Antrim District Council from the start of April.
There was an air of sadness at the imminent demise of the event as it took place at the Braid Town Hall complex, once again expertly compered by BBC presenter Jackie Fullerton.
“We are here this evening to pay tribute to the players, athletes, coaches, managers and administrators of sport within our borough, for their hard work, dedication and determination throughout the last year,” said the Mayor.
“Once again I would like to welcome our sponsors and to pay particular thanks to them for their support, which we greatly appreciate: Flamingo Health & Fitness; Black Advertising; Wrightbus; Diamond Recruitment; JBE Building Services Limited; Stirling Trophies; Michelin Ballymena; and Ballymena Credit Union.
“The continued support that we have received from our sponsors over the years has been amazing and we are extremely grateful.
“As I am sure you will agree without this support we would not be able to deliver this event in the manner which befits the standard of the nominees.
“Ballymena Borough Council is continually committed to leisure and sports events through the Leisure and Cultural Services department. Council continues to contribute to facility development, club development, provision of financial assistance, and the coordination of sports programmes to under represented groups such as females, people with disabilities and older people.
“In 2014, approximately 32 thousand pounds was made available to Sports Clubs in the Borough through the Council’s Community Grant schemes with a range of sports benefiting from this.
“In 2014 Ballymena Borough Council continued to provide assistance to events such as the Northern Ireland Open Challenge at Galgorm Castle Golf Club, the Tour of the North Cycle Race, Sky Sports Victory Shield and the Dale Farm Milk Cup.
“Also in 2014 over £250,000 was approved through the Community Enabling Scheme towards capital projects throughout the Borough. Various types of sports clubs have benefited from the funding for projects such as new floodlighting and improvements to playing surfaces.
“The Sporting Excellence Scheme, designed to assist talented athletes undertake relevant training, has been in operation for nearly 12 years. To date 148 individuals representing 17 sports have benefited from this scheme with 14 athletes from 13 sporting disciplines availing of the assistance in 2014.
“Finally, this evening we want to showcase and celebrate everyone involved in sport. Our support is unwavering from Grassroots to Elite. From both ends of the spectrum they benefit each other and it is important they are both equally recognised for their contribution to our community.
“Those who excel at sport must be given every opportunity to realise their full potential and with our support there is no reason why they cannot achieve their goals and ambitions whether it be at local, provincial, national or International level.
“We are very proud of all achievements within our sporting community.
“And while celebrating the best of our local sports people here tonight I also recognise that not everyone will aspire to reach this high level in sport but it is important to stay active recreationally - a vital part of keeping our community healthy.
“Everyone here tonight is a role model for our young people in the Borough and hopefully you will inspire more young people to get involved in sport and physical activity – a vital part of keeping our community healthy.
“We at Ballymena Borough Council are proud of all our sports men and women.
“Sport plays an important role in our community every day. With its diversity, the benefits of sport reach far beyond the impact on physical well-being, and the value of the educational benefits should not be underestimated. Sport can provide avenues for young people to learn and develop life skills through both team and individual sports.
“Sport is unique and it can bring down barriers and change opinions like no other. It brings communities together with shared goals, it strengthens local networks which reinforce a sense of place. It reaches to all walks of life from youth to old age, sport is limitless.
“Ballymena has always had a rich sporting heritage and as we move into Mid and East Antrim Council we will continue to ensure and appreciate the value that sport brings to our society and to our citizens,” added The Mayor.
* Special presentations were made to bowlers Barbara Cameron, Jennifer Dowds and Donna McCloy; boxer Steven Donnelly; and shooter Kirsty Barr, marking their participation for Northern Ireland in last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
* Participants and sponsors have expressed a hope that the awards can continue to flourish under the new Council regime. Long-time sponsor Don Stirling, of Stirling Trophies, spoke for many when he said: “I think it would be a shame and disgrace if it all falls apart now.
“Hopefully the three Councils will get together as one and do it in a different format,” added Don.
* A collection was taken up at the function for the Mayor’s chosen charity for this year, The Children’s Heartbeat Trust.