Don’t be fooled, there is more to Will Firth than those dazzling blue eyes and killer smile. The 20-year-old Longford local who lives with cerebral palsy is also a talented and successful wheelchair basketball athlete.

Remember the name, Will Firth.

Longford wheelchair basketball para-athlete Will Firth. Photos: Zoe Askew

“I’ve been playing for seven years now,” Will said.

“Mum and I drove up to Churchill for this come and try day for wheelchair basketball; I thought, oh well, I’ll give it a go and see how it is, and that’s where it all started. I absolutely loved it.”

Will represented Victoria at the 2023 Kevin Coombs Cup, the national wheelchair basketball championships, for a second consecutive year, with this year’s competition hosted in Brisbane, Queensland, from April 8 to 16.

“It was really good,” Will said.

“We left on Easter Sunday and got on the plane; it was busy, busy in the airport.

“Monday was good; we started training Tuesday, then on Thursday, we got to the tournament and competed against WA and Queensland.

“We smashed them both.”

Victoria defeated Queensland 64-60 and the WA Black Ducks 64-48.

Will sat out day one of the 2023 Kevin Coombs Cup with a niggling shoulder concern, but the up-and-coming wheelchair basketball star took to the court on days two and three, playing against New South Wales and South Australia.

Victoria advanced to the semi-finals with a 76-12 triumph over South Australia on day two and a 58-34 victory over New South Wales on day three.

After defeating New South Wales 61-37 in the semis, Victoria met the WA Black Ducks on Sunday, April 16, for the 2023 Kevin Coombs Cup Grand Final.

Victoria defeated the reigning champions 72 – 61, and local para-athlete Will brought home a gold medal to join his bronze medal, won at the 2022 Kevin Coombs Cup.

Will was accompanied at the 2023 Kevin Coombs Cup by one of his biggest fans, his mother, Jo Firth, who diligently cheered on her son and the Victorian side among the hundreds of spectators.

“It was the first time in years and years and years Victoria had actually had a clean sweep of the tournament,” Jo said.

“Queensland kicked them out of the semis [in 2022], so they didn’t get to play in the gold medal match last year.

“It was a very big Victoria-Queensland rivalry, and they were very happy to get the win this year.”

Will Firth has represented Victoria in the 2022 and 2023 Kevin Coombs Cup, with the wheelchair basketballer bringing home bronze and gold, respectively. Photos: Zoe Askew

Will began to think seriously about his sporting objectives as he approached the conclusion of his studies, completing Year 12 at Catholic College Sale in 2021.

With sights set on one day playing for the Australian Rollers, the men’s national wheelchair basketball team, in the Paralympics, Will has dedicated himself to wheelchair basketball, competing and training with the State Development Program (SDP) weekly in Melbourne.

“The closest competitive [wheelchair basketball] league to play is Kylsyth in Melbourne, and that’s just been moved this season to Oakleigh,” Jo said.

“So Will travels just to compete in a domestic league; we tried to get some things happening in Sale but just don’t have the numbers.”

Since leaving school, Will has received two scholarships to support him in achieving his para-athlete dreams.

The 12-month Gippsland Sports Academy Membership funded by Para Sport Australia, and the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) scholarship provides Will access to strength and conditioning coaches, nutrition experts, sports psychologists and specialist wheelchair basketball coaches.

At the end of April, Will represented the Victorian Institute of Sport at the inaugural National Institute Network (NIN) Challenge for wheelchair basketball at The Hangar in Melbourne.

“It was the Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS), WA Institute of Sport (WAIS) and the Victorian Institute of Sport, and we all came together for this weekend at The Hangr,” Will said.

“We played a few scrimmages, games and stuff; it was really good.

“All the institutes had guys playing over in Europe, internationally, with like 10 plus years of experience; it was crazy.

“It was such a good learning experience.”

Will has his sights on making the Australian Rollers, the men’s national wheelchair basketball team, and competing in the Paralympics.

As well as hitting the court, the four-day event included athlete education sessions led by VIS and Basketball Australia, covering topics such as nutrition, sports psychology and athlete wellbeing, with representatives from the women’s national wheelchair basketball team, Australian Gliders, also in attendance.

Head coach of the Gliders and VIS, Craig Campbell, said this NIN Challenge would provide many areas of growth for everyone involved.

“Five-on-five gameplay to implement team concepts has been one of the major things missing from our daily training environment, so being able to collaborate with WAIS and QAS for the NIN Challenge is giving our VIS athletes the opportunity to further evolve their game in readiness to compete at the next level,” Campbell said.

“These games help show why we’re working on certain things in our small group DTEs (daily training environments) and also to challenge where we can push our growth as a national program moving forward.”

When Will isn’t in or travelling to Melbourne for training and competitions or shooting hoops in his backyard, the 20-year-old can be found at Bunnings in Sale.

“I literally see half of Sale come in every day,” Will said.

“I love it – it’s good – I’ve just hit six months at Bunnings.

“They might be putting me on Monday and Wednesday too.”

Looking at the bright-eyed, smiling young man, it’s hard to imagine the challenges Will has overcome and continues to face living with cerebral palsy.

“It is hard for Will, living regionally as not just an athlete but as a para-athlete,” Jo said.

“It has massive challenges.”

Accessibility, or lack thereof, is the most significant challenge Will faces daily, from access to professionals specialising in para-athletes to suitable training venues and the accessibility of transport to get him there.

“You need to have an NDIS plan,” Jo said.

“If you don’t have financial help regionally in your NDIS plan, you’re cactus.

“You really need funding to get you where you need to go, and you just need to have really strong advocates; young people with disabilities need the strongest advocates to get what they need to participate.

“The NDIS plans are the key to just think forward and get funds there to get people to take you where you need to be because if we didn’t get Will to Melbourne for all those years, he just wouldn’t get the opportunity, he just wouldn’t get the opportunity.”

Will hopes to bring wheelchair basketball to Gippsland.

Will’s hard work and determination have led to his success and induction into programmes such as SDP, designed to ensure that the next generation of wheelchair basketball players with the ability and attitude to excel in an elite environment are identified, developed and nurtured.

While the local para-athlete continues to excel, Will might not be where he is today, chasing his dream, without the help and support from Jo, his dad Carl, his younger sister Molly and the surrounding community.

“Sale Mixed Concrete, Peter Connor from Sale Mixed Concrete, they donated a full truckload of concrete for us [to build an area at home where Will can train,” Carl said.

“I told them we were putting the basketball ring up, and that Will is playing for Victoria, and he said they would chip in and help out.”

Ken Bailey from Sporting Legends in Sale financially assisted Will in getting to Brisbane for the 2023 Kevin Coombs Cup, with the 20-year-old never without a cheer squad behind him when he needs it most, as Jo, Carl, and Molly can always be spotted in the crowd.

Will Firth has come a long way from the 13-year-old who attended the come-and-try day in Churchill, today training to make the Australian wheelchair basketball team with sights set on the Brisbane 2032 Summer Paralympics.

“[It will take] a lot of hard work,” Will said.

“Training, literally years of training.

“Lots of travel, gym, strength, conditioning, building up the muscles.”

He has the attitude, he has the ability, he has the determination, and he has the support of his teammates, family and friends.

Remember the name Will Firth – you might very well be watching him in the Brisbane 2032 Summer Paralympics.