The biggest ever Boccia Open in England is taking place at Sport Central in Northumbria

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North East-based non-profit organization SMILE Through Sport, founded by former Northumbria pupil and Paralympian Stephen Miller MBE, is organizing the biggest ever open boccia event in England.

Boccia, pronounced bot-cha, is a Paralympic sport similar to bowls. Its name derives from the Italian word meaning “bowl” and the sport is considered one of the earliest games played by mankind, with roots in ancient Greece and Egypt.

A game full of tactics and skill, Boccia is played in a gym with soft leather balls. It is primarily popular among groups of severely disabled people, but can be played by people of any ability or disability.

More than 100 players will take part in the sixth SMILE Boccia Open for individuals. The competition, which takes place on February 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., will take place at Northumbria University’s £30 million world-class sports center and events arena, Sport Central.

An open and inclusive event, the competition welcomes all handicap groups with players from beginner to international level. Participants aged just 8 to 56 will descend on Sport Central from across the North East as well as Sheffield, Scotland, Scarborough and Leeds.

SMILE (Stephen Miller Inspiring Learning and Enjoyment) Through Sport is a non-profit organization founded in 2013 by Paralympian Stephen Miller MBE and his wife Rachel Miller, who is the company’s Chief Executive Officer. Their mission is to provide and encourage high quality disability sport opportunities while inspiring individuals to participate, thereby improving the perception and culture surrounding disability sport – the SMILE Boccia Open is a key date on the calendar supporting this mission.

With an ex-Northumbria student at the helm, SMILE Through Sport was able to access commercial support from the University. In its early days, the organization received legal and marketing assistance through Student & Graduate Enterprise, a service that provides alumni with free advice from specialist advisers.

SMILE Through Sport founder Stephen Miller said: “As a former student of Northumbria University, I am delighted to bring our Boccia Open to Sport Central. Sport is an important part of my life and I am passionate about the impact it can have on a person’s physical and mental health. This year we are expecting over 120 people at this competition, making it the biggest boccia open ever in the UK. I would like to thank Irwin Mitchell and Northumbria University for helping us organize this event”.

Northumbria Sports and Exercise Manager Katy Storie said: “We are delighted to support SMILE Through Sport by hosting England’s biggest boccia open ever here at Sport Central. Boccia is a fantastic sport to play and watch, and hosting this event here in Northumbria is a great way to highlight the empowering effects of sport for the disabled and the work that Stephen and the SMILE Through Sport team do.

Stephen, a Northumbria graduate with a BSc (Hons) in Business Information Systems in 2002, is a professional athlete and competes in field athletics in the F32 Club Throw event.

He represented Great Britain for over 20 years, having competed in six Paralympic Games, six World Championships and five European Championships, winning 26 international medals in the process. The well-decorated athlete has received several accolades over the years, the latest of which was receiving the MBE award in the 2016 New Year Honours. Stephen is currently training for Tokyo 2020 – his seventh Paralympic adventure.

Spectators are welcome to come and watch the event at Sport Central this Sunday, no tickets are necessary.

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