May 2019 - Owen Sheppard

ClubLife - May 2019: Owen Sheppard

Owen Sheppard receives the Heartbeat OSCA

The OSCA for ‘Heartbeat of the Club’ award reflects that volunteer who the club could simply not do without. Many clubs have many people that fit this bill every year and all of them are deserving of recognition.  To highlight one person is not to look down upon the achievements of all others in any way, but in 2018 the nomination for Owen Sheppard listed a whole chronicle of volunteer involvement across all aspects of Collingbourne Cricket Club that was quite remarkable.

What is always so impressive with all nominations in this category is the amount of time involved and the breadth of that involvement. This is proper dedication. This is an award that reveals a deep love for cricket and a loyal commitment to a local club.

As most clubs will attest, having a junior section provides a lifeline for the club, bringing on younger players and helping to guarantee the security of the senior teams in years to come. Collingbourne had delivered junior cricket between 1990 and 2004 with teams at under 9, 11, 13 and 15 age groups. Many of these players had since graduated into a newly formed senior 2nd XI but in 2004 the club’s junior section folded through a lack of volunteer support after significant input from the likes of Graham Chandler, and Humphrey Sheppard before him.

With support from Mark Brett, Owen took on the role of starting up a junior section. They recognised that without a youth section the future of the club was under threat and had a very simple philosophy of giving cricket to as many young people in the village and the surrounding villages. In 2011, 11 children attended the first indoor winter training session and the club entered the Kennet Youth League at under 15 and under 13 level, and continued to do so for the next 5 years.

Owen realised that with limited cricket provision in local primary schools, there was an opportunity and the need for greater cricket provision to younger children. He organised coaching sessions in the community between 2011 and 2013 whilst also hosting a primary schools kwik cricket festival each year from 2013, and by 2016 the club had an under 9 team and had entered into the Wiltshire Youth Cricket League.

Alongside this, and in support of his own coaching experience and development, Owen supported district cricket with Kennet under 11’s for two years before leading the programme in 2017.

By this time Collingbourne was a regular participant in the WYCL under 9 festivals, and in 2018 played an Under 11 team match for the first time in 15 years in the WYCL pairs competition whilst competing in the WYCL 20 over format as well. The club hosted it’s sixth primary school kwik cricket competition and the girls only format for the first time and was able to put out a girls only under 9 team for the first time ever.

With the development of the All Stars programme providing a great opportunity for all clubs to engage with a younger audience, Owen was keen to get involved and put Collingbourne forward to be part of the 2018 All Stars programme. This first season saw 17 children attend Sunday coaching sessions, which complemented the ongoing primary school work with the vision of retaining some of those young players into junior cricket programmes in future years.

As if this wasn’t enough Owen has then been responsible for initiating the first club tour and further tours to the Scilly Isles, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Kenya as well as taking lead roles on club presentation dinners and youth presentation nights. He took on the responsibility of the Safe Hands lead role for the club and continues to ensure that all senior members of the club are aware of their responsibilities to young people. In order to develop young players cricket awareness and give them positive experiences, he has organised trips down to watch Hampshire games which juniors have loved.

For the future the club, as with many around the country, is struggling to retain players. This goes for adult and youth alike as so many other things become more important than being able to spend time playing, organising or watching the game of cricket.

The main positive for Collingbourne is the progression they have seen in recent years and are continuing to see. Children keep coming back, those that want to play really enjoy it and they are all ever improving. Over this winter the club again ran fortnightly indoor practice sessions with double figures at each session.

They also saw 8 of the Under 13’s during 2018 take part in games for the Men’s teams in both friendly matches and League matches. As Owen says, with the average player these days only able to commit to 7 games a season, when you have a fixture list of over 40 games that’s a lot of names needed.

Yet despite this the club has had to reduce its fixture list for 2019 and have taken decisions to reduce travel in the hope that this move will assist the club in maintaining its adult status whilst those promising youngsters get ever closer to taking their rightful place.

Owen is quick to point out that there are many other people at the club taking significant roles, who make the running of the club possible. In his own words, ‘we have a Groundsman who does fantastic work, a Treasurer who has brought the club into a brilliant place financially and a Secretary who has kept everyone informed and gained opinion and support as and when needed, not to mention a Chairman who trusts them all to do what’s right for the club. ’ Collingbourne completed the ECB Clubmark accreditation for the first time in 2018, they supported the pink cricket Charity organised by Swindon United Churches and raised over £600 for the charity and are clearly a club with community at the heart of it.

It’s often quite easy as a player or a parent or a child to simply turn up at a cricket session or match and take part. We can take for granted the things that have happened behind the scenes to make that activity happen. For Collingbourne, it’s people like Owen Sheppard that have carried the club to where it is today, and have been responsible for introducing many of the activities, events and opportunities that are available for children in the local area.

It is often said that no one is irreplaceable, but at Collingbourne Cricket Club, it is safe to say that they could never replace Owen.

Wiltshire Cricket would like to wholeheartedly congratulate Owen on his success at the OSCA’s in September 2018 and pass on our huge thanks to the people at every club in the county that make cricket happen. It’s a commitment to community sport that should never go un-noticed and it’s the behind the scenes time, effort and dedication that allows pitches to be ready, equipment to be available, matches organised, coaching delivered, success recognised and positive experiences provided at every opportunity.