Vitality Grassroots Sportswoman of the Year Award Shortlisted Nominees
The Vitality Grassroots Sportswoman of the Year Award celebrates individuals who have actively engaged with different groups of people within their community through sport.
2020’s nominees are:
Kate Nicholls is the head coach of Witney Wolves, a special educational needs (SEN) rugby team. The team offers touch and tag rugby to SEN players of a range of ages. One mother, whose son has been playing with the Wolves for several years, said: “He is severely disabled but plays rugby with all his heart and soul… He wakes up with a smile on his face because he will be playing rugby with his friends.” Conscious that lockdown would be a particularly hard time for her players, Nicholls ran virtual sessions in her garden with her three sons, who all also play rugby. Last year, she was selected to coach a session in front of England head coach Eddie Jones, as a recognition of her volunteering efforts.
Katee Hui started Hackney Laces in 2011 after realising there were not enough opportunities for girls and women to play football in her local area. Hui, who is a qualified football coach working towards her UEFA B licence, began the club in 2011 with just a few girls, offering free training and fitness sessions. There are now more than 350 women and girls of all ages attending sessions across the capital between Hackney Laces and its two sister clubs, Limehouse Laces and South London Laces. Hui also started Extra Time sessions off the pitch which offering a range of extra-curricular mentoring for the women and girls who play football. Sessions have included helping teenagers with their CVs, talks from inspirational speakers, and first aid for knife crime victims. Hui, whose work for Hackney Laces is entirely voluntary, won a Points of Light award from then-prime minister David Cameron in 2015. During lockdown, she organised online sessions and kit deliveries to keep the Laces community active.
Zainab Alema is a rugby player for Barnes RFC and a trailblazer, working to encourage more black and Muslim women to follow her lead and take up rugby. She started playing the sport as a teenager and joined Barnes in 2017.
Alema, who is a neonatal nurse for the NHS and mother of three, has been integral in Barnes’ response to the Black Lives Matter movement and recently started the Muslimah Rugby online community to try to connect Muslim women who play rugby, so that no one has to feel as isolated as she says she felt when she first started playing.
Last year, Alema founded Studs in the Mud, a project supporting grassroots rugby. Her fundraising efforts ensured new boots could be shipped over for dozens of players in Ghana and, more recently, Morocco, where she joined in a training session with a team of Muslim women and supplied 25 new pairs of boots.
Elaine Brown is taking volleyball to new heights across West Yorkshire. The coach, who lives in Leeds, has taught students from the age of eight to 18 across all schools in the GORSE Academies Trust, all six Leeds junior teams, and on the Yorkshire volleyball programme. She was appointed the director of youth volleyball development across the GORSE Academies Trust last year and, in October, won national volleyball coach of the year.
Brown has launched after-school volleyball in four primary schools, with each academy in the trust now offering the sport as part of PE and running weekly extra-curricular clubs with up to 60 students at a session. The under-15s girls’ team has reached the finals of the national championships. She also organised a Leeds Gorse Volleyball Club LGBT+ Open Play Day in conjunction with the Leeds LGBT+ Fringe Festival and is passionate about diversifying sport.