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Unsung Hero Award for Hinckley Town Tennis Club Coach

Published Monday, 29 November 2021

A prominent tennis coach and member of Hinckley Town Tennis Club has won the BBC East Midlands Sports Personality of the Year Unsung Hero Award for 2021.

John McGowan from Hinckley joins a growing group of local sporting unsung heroes, being the borough’s sixth regional winner in 10 years to receive this prestigious honour. 

John is a member and coach at Hinckley Town Tennis Club. He was appointed Chair in 2012 following his retirement with a mission to keep the club accessible and affordable to all.

John has helped to increase the club membership by holding club open days and supporting local fun days on park tennis courts to raise awareness of the club as well as raising over £42,000 to improve the floodlights to enable training sessions and matches to be played during the winter months. John also co-ordinates annual tennis coaching in 12 local schools in the borough.

However, the biggest impact and life-changing development he introduced has been delivering free tennis coaching for disabled players, which has now been running for 11 years. John started sessions for day care groups, special needs schools and free drop-in sessions on Saturday mornings. These sessions now run for 10 hours every week, averaging 31 players.

When the coronavirus pandemic struck, John was determined to ensure the disabled groups restarted as soon as possible as he recognised these sessions had become so important to the individuals because they provide a healthy, fun, accepting and social outlet for the participants, which they look forward to every week. 

As soon as it was possible last year, John ensured the club was open and covid-compliant and during 2021 John has kept growing these all-important sessions. 

To finance disability tennis, John has successfully applied for grants from the Dan Maskell Trust and other local sources and linked up with Bright Ideas for Tennis, a charity which provides training in disability coaching for local coaches and volunteers. The club has also recently invested in a tennis wheelchair, which will enable more young players to join in the sessions. To cover the cost, John applied to the National Lottery Community Fund (Local Connections) and was successful in receiving a £600 grant. 

John was nominated for the unsung hero award by the Borough Council’s Health and Recreation Manager Graeme Chilvers. John was recently thanked by the tennis charity Bright Ideas for Tennis for his outstanding work and was presented with a selection of sought-after tennis items.

Councillor Keith Nichols, Executive Member for Leisure said:

Huge congratulations to John for this award. It is rightly deserved for the time and enthusiasm he has dedicated to Hinckley Tennis Club, its members and the local community. The work that goes on behind the scenes to undertake all these activities and fundraising is immeasurable, and his nomination is just a small way of thanking him. A true ‘unsung’ hero. On behalf of everyone in the borough, good luck in the national awards.

John will now represent the East Midlands when an overall Unsung Hero will be announced at the national BBC Sports Personality Awards to be held on Sunday 19 December.

Unsung hero with award posing with mayor