ELLESMERE Port Panthers have beaten the odds to reach the finals of the English National Basketball League – and now their head coach is aiming to beat the clock to get his team together.
The Panthers’ under 13s boys team remained unbeaten in their debut season to reach the ENBL play-off finals at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire on Saturday, March 29.
But three key players will be on a school ski trip in Austria when they are needed to play – so coach Carl Griffiths has come up with a special plan to get the boys home early.
He will fly out to Austria from Leeds Bradford Airport days before the final and bring the trio – his son Jack Griffiths and Dan Bostock, both 12, and 13-year-old Joe Hayes – back to the UK with the blessing of their tutors at Ellesmere Port Catholic High School.
Carl said: “The school, which has a great basketball reputation, has been really understanding.
“I am flying back into Manchester with them. It is a hectic trip but they are part of the team. Jack is one of our England representatives and we want to have a real go at this title.”
The club had been hoping to travel to Cranwell the day before to prepare, but a lack of funding means they cannot.
They may even have to travel in the cars of team coaches and parents as the club hasn’t got the funds to hire a bus.
“We are one of the smallest clubs in the country,” said Carl. “All the other teams at our level are pretty much city-based with funding from councils, major sponsors and such.
“But we get nothing, yet despite that we are also one of the best in the country.
“People are already coming to look at our players and we are trying to keep hold of them for next year and not lose them to bigger teams in Manchester or Liverpool.”
The Panthers, who train at Cheshire Oaks High and The Hub, saw off the challenge of Barnsley Leaders, Sheffield Junior Sharks and Notts Nova during the earlier play-off rounds to book their appearance in the finals. They will face Brentwood Fire in a semi-final at Cranwell for the right to reach the final, and a meeting with either Leeds Tigers or Newham All Stars.
If you would like to offer sponsorship for the team or help them secure a coach or even accommodation before the finals, you can contact Carl on 07957 871049.