A regular at BWB games and events, Grace Jacca has been involved in wheelchair basketball for 30 years as an official and as an event volunteer.
A basketball player during her junior and college years and then at senior level, Grace first got involved in wheelchair basketball through her involvement in the running game.
“I got involved quite literally for the love of the game, I wanted to see what wheelchair basketball was all about,” Grace said.
“There were a couple of officials involved in both basketball and wheelchair basketball who asked if anyone was interested in refereeing wheelchair basketball. At the time I was still playing basketball but I had already taken a course to be a referee in the running game, so I did a conversion course at Stoke Mandeville for wheelchair basketball and I have been involved in the sport ever since.”
Growth of the sport
Since first getting involved, Grace has officiated hundreds of wheelchair basketball games, seeing the sport grow tremendously.
Living on the South Coast, Grace would travel to games as far away as the Midlands and the North, but, with more clubs and a revised league structure, including local leagues, thankfully for Grace, she doesn’t have to make as many cross-country trips.
“When I first started, the National League was very much a National League, it included teams from across the Home Nations all in the same division. At the beginning, there were definitely some long journeys to get to games to officiate.
“With a more regional structure I can officiate games closer to home, but you still do have to be flexible because there aren’t that many officials.”
On the growth of the sport in the UK, Grace says: “There’s more teams now and definitely more juniors involved which is fantastic to see. Internationally, the GB teams have obviously gone on to succeed and win medals at major tournaments and continue to hold their own on the international and world stage.”
Grace has seen past and current GB stars take to the court for the first time who have since gone on to compete at Paralympic Games, World and European Championships.
Junior competitions and tournaments are always among the season’s highlights for Grace.
“The Junior Championships are always a brilliant event,” Grace said. “I’ve been lucky enough to see so many players progress through the years. You look at them when they’re showing off their skills, going super-fast and dancing in their chair, and then you think to yourself I remember when your chair was tiny, and you were just starting out in the sport.
“That’s one of the great things about being involved in the junior events, you get to see the future stars of the sport.”
Never far from a court
Even when not officiating, Grace can often be found helping at BWB events as an event volunteer.
First volunteering at ‘Game On’ at Sheffield pre-London 2012 to supporting the team at the 2015 European Championships hosted in Worcester, to taking the position as Court Manager at British Wheelchair Basketball events, Grace has become a regular within BWB’s events team.
“Wheelchair basketball is such a great community to be involved in and that’s one of the reasons why I started to volunteer at events and tournaments. I wanted to be there helping because I love the sport and the community.
“If I wasn’t selected to officiate at an event, I would see if there were any opportunities to volunteer because you do become part of the wheelchair basketball family. And because I also had experience of being an official, I would know what referees required upon arrival to games, and that table officials would want their equipment ready on the table, so I was able to do that to allow other members of the team to do other things.
“Once the games are on, you can then watch the games as well as contribute to the events.”
A fluent French speaker, Grace’s language skills came to good use at the 2012 Olympic Games in London where she was Team Liaison for France’s silver medal winning team in the women’s basketball event, before volunteering at the 2012 Paralympic Games, just a few weeks later.
Enforcer on and off the court
Although a basketball court is very different from Grace’s day-to-day work as a Law Enforcement Officer, Grace says her job and involvement with wheelchair basketball do complement each other well.
“I feel my refereeing does reflect my actual job because you feel like you’re a guardian angel, traffic warden, taking the heat out of the emotion, you’re enforcing rules in a way but I would like to think I am quite friendly about it.”
Often using her annual leave to attend events, Grace added: “When I am volunteering, I also get to use a lot of the skills I use at work; teamwork, leadership, team bonding and generally just helping out. Just by volunteering at an event you pick-up and develop lots of different skills, and there are always opportunities to get involved with lots of different tasks.
“If you’re a people person and love sport, then there are so many great opportunities to get involved with wheelchair basketball,” Grace added.
Away from wheelchair basketball, Grace is also involved in football as the Inclusion Director for Berks & Bucks Football Association, and was part of the FIFA Safeguarding Team at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.
Inclusion and diversity are important to Grace and one of the reasons why she enjoys being involved in wheelchair basketball.
“Wheelchair basketball is the most inclusive game because you will see all kinds of people playing together, and that’s the way we should be. You will find someone who is probably quiet or shy, and maybe someone who is loud but that’s our differences that you embrace.”
Away from the court, Grace says, “I think we, as a society, do need to have those more challenging conversations [about race, diversity and inclusion] so that you can show that not all assumptions are true.”
Although the current pandemic has seen wheelchair basketball competition currently suspended in the UK, Grace believes there will be exciting times for the sport in the UK once activity is resumed.
“It might take a bit longer to get back as a sport, but we will get through this because that’s what the sporting family and community in wheelchair basketball is about,” Grace said. “We have some very good people out there with plenty of future stars. It’s a joy to be involved in a sport I’m very passionate about.
“It doesn’t matter who you are; you can play, you can take part as an official, as a stats person, as a coach, or as a volunteer. There are so many opportunities to get involved.”