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Ipswich/Brightlingsea: Red tape could destroy basketball star’s shot at fame

PUBLISHED: 17:11 03 December 2012

Laurence Watsham of Brightlingsea in Essex, is fighting to stay in the Copleston Basketball Academy now that his travel benefit is being denied.

Laurence Watsham of Brightlingsea in Essex, is fighting to stay in the Copleston Basketball Academy now that his travel benefit is being denied.

Archant

AN England basketball youth international who overcame bullying by taking up the sport is today facing the possibility of giving up on his dream – because of red tape.

Laurence Watsham was picked on for being exceptionally tall – but using his height to his advantage he transformed his life.

He had hoped to pursue his sporting ambitions after enrolling at Ipswich Basketball Academy at Copleston High School in September.

However, the 16-year-old – who lives over the Suffolk border in Essex – has been told he does not qualify for a travel subsidy because he would not be studying at his nearest learning establishment.

Bosses at Essex County Council said the 6ft 11in teenager can take his travel and tourism course at Colchester Institute – and said sports and other extra-curricular activities could not be taken into account.

His angry mother Jenny Rooke said the council was “completely ignoring” the fact that Laurence is also undertaking an AASE course in basketball – the academy is the only place in the east of England where aspiring players can achieve the qualification.

She said she can’t afford the £70 to £80 a week it costs to send Laurence, who suffers from Aspergers syndrome, to and from Copleston.

Currently, friends and family are ferrying Laurence to and from Ipswich.

Ms Rooke, 52, accused the council of showing no regard for the sport which has “saved” her son.

“It has been a nightmare,” she said. “I don’t know why I thought him going to Ipswich would be straightforward, nothing in his life has ever been straightforward.”

“Basketball is the most important thing in his life, it just seems so unfair.”

The course at Copleston provides students with a realistic opportunity of making a career out of the sport, offering the training, conditioning and nutrition sportsmen and women require.

When he was nine, Laurence was diagnosed with Aspergers – an autistic spectrum disorder typified by difficulties with social interaction.

In and out of schools, constantly struggling and frequently excluded, his time at primary school was turbulent.

“Since he was diagnosed with Aspergers he has always had his travel paid for,” said Ms Rooke. “It (Aspergers) has affected his life in so many ways.”

Basketball, she said, suddenly gave him something to aim for. “For the first time, people believed in him. For the first time he actually believed he could do something with his life,” she said.

“It just seems ridiculous. He has had all this help his whole life and now when he needs it most they turn their backs on him.

“He said to me, if he didn’t have basketball he would’ve probably ended up on drugs because he wouldn’t know what else to do.”

An Essex County Council spokesman said: “Essex County Council is sympathetic regarding the current situation of Mr Watsham.

“However, as our policy states, to qualify for post-16 transport assistance a student must attend the nearest establishment to their home that provides the subject they wish to study.

“Any extra-curricular activity, such as sports, cannot be taken into account unless the sport qualification level is higher than that of the main qualification they have chosen to study.

“If a student is declined transport they may appeal against the decision.”

n What do you think? Write to Your Letters, Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail starletters@archant.co.uk

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