Jason’s passion for blind cricket is changing the game across Australia
In his role as Community Development Coordinator for Feros Care ACT, Jason Schmidt likes to keep busy developing and running inclusive sporting programs that transform countless lives.
Jason remembers the exact moment his passion for helping people with disability was ignited. While working at a preschool during Year 10, he met a young boy with autism who was just learning to speak. “We connected straight away,” says Jason. “I wasn’t allowed to leave his side!”
After obtaining degrees in education and applied business specialising in sports and recreation, he worked for the NRL as Competition Coordinator for under-18s and delivered after-school skills programs for the Tasmanian Rugby League.
While Jason’s career path was rich and rewarding, he knew he wanted to do something to improve the lives of people with disability. When his children started playing soccer, AFL and cricket, a unique opportunity presented itself.
Creating a game-changing program
“I coached my children’s teams, volunteered where I could and started running clubs and junior cricket programs for 10+ teams,” Jason says.
“I then came across a promotion by Cricket Australia asking for volunteers to run programs promoting the inclusion of various groups in sport. I chose people with disability because that was my passion and there weren’t any programs for them in my area. One session in, I knew I’d found my path and I never looked back.”
And so, in 2017 , the Hurricanes Inclusion Cup (HIC) was born. Kicking off with eight participants, the HIC grew to almost 70 players within a year.
“We had people with severe autism who were completely nonverbal, people with cerebral palsy who needed A-frames to walk around, people in wheelchairs and people who were deaf. We really focused on what they could do rather than what they couldn’t do. The most rewarding thing was the smile on people’s faces as they played cricket.”
Branching out into blind cricket
Following the success of the HIC, Jason got a job at Special Olympics Australia, implementing the HIC delivery model of engaging with disability support services, and developing programs directly with sporting organisations for the benefit of people living with disability.
“During that time, I also started a company called Inclusive Innovations Tasmania with a friend,” says Jason. “We partnered with Blind Sports Australia to develop sporting programs for blind and vision-impaired people throughout the state.”
When Jason relocated to Canberra with his family in 2019, he started working with Blind Cricket ACT and soon became President.
While blind cricket is similar to sighted cricket, it uses an audible ball and totally blind players have a runner when batting. Each team includes totally blind players, partially blind players and partially sighted players.
“Through my role and my connections to Tasmania, we developed a joint ACT/TAS blind cricket team,” he says.
In 2023, the team entered the National Cricket Inclusion Championships for the first time.
“It’s something that we’d been dreaming about for so long and to finally bring everything together was sensational.”
Extending his passion for inclusion in sport
Through Jason’s role at Feros Care, he recently developed the launch of the ACT Sports Inclusion Alliance through a co-design approach.
“The program was designed because the ACT has a flourishing disability sport landscape that is lacking continuity and connection,” Jason explains.
“By mapping the sporting community and developing a range of delivery models, the program will build the capacity of organisations and champions to connect with each other, their target audience and the greater community.”
In April 2023, the Alliance held an Accessible Sports and Arts Expo in Canberra. “We had 20 sports and organisations registered as stall holders and 230 registered participants,” says Jason. “Over the coming months, we’ll develop networking meetings for mainstream and disability sports to connect, learn from each other and cross-pollinate.”
The Alliance also supported the Canberra Blind Society’s Weekend to Remember in March. The event brought together 24 people with disability at Birrigai Outdoor Camp and introduced them to a range of new activities – including cricket.
“I liked the blind cricket activity,” says camp goer Brent. “I’ve been trying to find new activities for a while. I really enjoyed the game and I think I might join.”
A man with a heart of gold
While Jason advocates for inclusion in sport, he also helps Feros Care clients make the most out of their NDIS funding and include sporting activities in their plan if they’re interested.
“I find sports that focus on inclusion and disability to be the purest forms of sport,” says Jason. “I love the puzzle of adapting sports to meet the needs of people with disability and working with sportspeople to work through their preconceived conceptions of what sport looks like.”
“I want sport to be enjoyed by everyone.”