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Hill making lasting impression on inclusive sport

A showstopper on and off the court, James Hill knows how to make an impression.

You can just imagine the reaction when the 24-year-old Queensland and Wheelaroos star rolls into a classroom - then he stands up.

An outdoor education teacher in the Scenic Rim region day-to-day, Hill also delivers 'reverse inclusion' programs to schools on the Sunshine Coast in which children participate in wheelchair sport to get a different perspective on the perception of impairment.

"I don't know if it's a stigma, but definitely a notion that that's 'their thing'. I'm talking about wheelchair sports, that it's 'not our thing'," he said.

"That's an automatic segregation of communities. That's like saying we're two different communities, we're different people, we're not the same - which is totally wrong.

"This is just a sport, this is just a wheelchair, we're just playing rugby league. We play the same rules, hereabout. 

Wheelchair State Challenge: Queensland harnessing inspiring winning spirit

"All in all the game is fantastic and the more people you have playing, the more opportunities there are.

"Creating these sessions and these opportunities to play the sport and then create pathways from that is really challenging.

"It is really rewarding and you get it at different levels.

"You know, I remember back to the first interschool competition that we ran between Beerwah State High and Maleny and the kids from Maleny wrote us letters at the end of that six-week program.

One of them wrote: 'I used to think that being in a wheelchair sucked and you showed me that it can be fun'. That sticks with me.

"That really meant a lot to me and we didn't do anything special, you know what I mean? We just ran a wheelchair tournament for six weeks."

Most of these sessions are delivered using wheelchair basketball, which is fair to say a lesser contact sport than rugby league.

The beauty of the wheeled form of the code is seeing able-bodied and classified athletes getting equal opportunity to progress to representative levels.

It allowed fellow Queenslanders the likes of Bayley McKenna to join the sport with his dad, or Cory Mostran - in the wake of a serious motorcycle accident - to play alongside brother-in-law Shaun Harre.

It's a variety of people, culture and individuality Hill relishes celebrating, no matter what adversity participants have or haven't faced.

Spend any time with Hill and you will see he's a good-natured, affable guy and he does just about everything with a smile.

But see him talking strategy with Jack Brown - including lessons they took from opposite sides at the World Cup and how they will execute them against NSW - and he's deadly serious.

The scary thing for NSW is Hill believes Queensland played below their best in a 49-24 win this time last year; the second meeting of 2022 after a 2021 catch-up game - another Queensland win - was held in January last year.

James Hill in action for Queensland in January 2022
James Hill in action for Queensland in January 2022

"We've got really entertaining athletes to watch. It is a really strong team, strong unit. You've got the five guys from Townsville that have been playing together for a long time and there's a few additions in there as well," he said.

"We've done some reviews and we're looking at the stats, and our second game was shocking.

"(NSW) gave us a lot of opportunities and we capitalised on them. But moving forward going into this trifecta we're attempting for, it'll be about reducing our errors and maintaining the intensity.

"If you were watching the World Cup, it's all in there. We're just sort of looking at what the best players in the world do, how they do it... and seeing how we can mimic that and put it into our game and turn it into our football.

"It's rough and tough, a bit more iron on the shins as they say.

"I'm extremely hopeful that we'll come out on top."

But for Hill it's not about the personal accolades, it all comes back to creating a talking point and changing perceptions.

"It's odd. It's never really for myself," he said.

"I actually regret one of the things I said at the World Cup really. There was a phrase I said that I wanted a highlight reel and I really regret saying that because I really don't, it's not for me.

"I really want to go out there as not an inspiration, not as this person to look at, but more or less a talking point.

"So many people I've had a conversation with, who I've met in my life, I've had an influence on or at least changed their perception of what 'disability' is.

"No one knew of the sport of wheelchair rugby league 10 years ago, five years ago, someone didn't know yesterday, let alone wheelchair basketball.

"It's just about creating awareness and growing the sport. It's never an individual."


Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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