It all began with a stick and a puck! It all began with a chance comment at a first graders birthday party. I was approached by the father of the birthday boy and he said, ”I heard you play hockey”. That father handed me a copy of a movie called “SPECIAL, Give Us a Game” about his brothers team in Detroit Michigan. Karl Niemiec had filmed it over a several year period and it showed the dramatic change made in the kids who stuck with the program. Karl was hoping someone would maybe start this here in Indy. After watching the movie I decided I had to do this.
The idea was easy for others to grasp but it took way too long for someone to want to help. We contacted multiple school boards, doctors and special needs facilities with no luck. One day Karl called me and told me that he had seen a commercial for a place called DAMAR and wondered if I had contacted them? I had not but was there the next day. I met a man named Jim Porter who not only was the Director of Activities but was very interested in partnering on this. We got him all our paperwork and information to see if DAMAR could in fact sign on. The legal department had the info for almost a year before they came back with a yes. At this time we began raising money to get this off the ground. When the money began to arrive David DeWitt the Director of Advancement for DAMAR called and he was interested in helping us get some more momentum. Dave was also indispensable in getting more support from the executive staff at DAMAR.
When the first season was to start we had a mish mash of used equipment and some money to help pay for ice but that was it. After being shot down at multiple rinks in town we were blessed with the involvement of the Carmel Ice Skadium and the Indianapolis Youth Hockey Association (IYHA). Eileen Mills who is the USA Hockey and IYHA secretary began making contacts for us and also was the person who got us our own USA Hockey association number. Eileen was the doorway to multiple donors as well as the catalyst to getting the local hockey community excited to help us. As the season began we had approximately 10 to 12 kids and were getting our bearings when we had a stroke of luck. Jeff Fox and Dave Carson who are guys I play hockey with joined on and began to help with coaching and equipment. Jeff is now our board president and Dave is our treasurer. We had the luxury of having Carl Sampson there every week as well. This was a luxury because his son Michael was on our team and it gave us the insight from a special needs parent on how to deal with these kids. Carl and his wife Elizabeth were instrumental in educating myself in dealing with not only the kids but the special needs community as a whole. Not to mention that Carl is our web master and it was he who got our web site started and continues to implement the evolution of it. We could not exist without these kinds of volunteers making it possible!
During the season we were lucky enough to have a fund raising event with the Indiana Ice. We were given a table in the concourse and were given the chance to drop the puck before the game at center ice. During our table time we met a gentlemen name Francois Hurtubis who was very interested in helping out on the ice. Between he and Jeff Fox we now had two very good coaches with way more experience than I in coaching in hockey. Francois is now our director of player development. There are now three of us on ice with USA hockey coaching certifications to help in our teams development. Come the end of the season the majority of our kids were in new equipment from money raised by all of us and the majority of them had advanced beyond anything we could have guessed.
By the end of the season we had exposed some 28 to 30 kids to ice hockey. Some stayed and some did not but the ones who were dedicated will tell you they had a great time! We are poised to start our second season and we have more collected momentum than I thought was possible. Our on and off ice development has grown by leaps and bounds as well as our ability to garner credibility in the local hockey community. With some luck we can complete a team and hopefully host some teams for games with our peers. That was the emphasis of the movie that sparked this whole journey, inclusion. Should you be reading this and wondering what special hockey looks like let me tell you! The kids skate, pass, shoot and do it at all levels. The smiles we as coaches, volunteers and parents see every week is why we are there and they are infectious. When we see them these kids are not special needs they are just special!