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Monday, October 24, 2011

Orange and Blue

The Junior Reign Hockey organization has accepted us into their program, so we are officially the Junior Reign Sled Team.  It's very exciting!

It has been a long road to get here from the very first idea of starting sled hockey in Southern California.
Nick and Steven sporting the Junior Reign jerseys.  Fish out your orange and blue clothes!

One of my friends in Michigan had sent me pictures on Facebook of her son playing this amazing sport called sled hockey.  This was about three years ago. My son, who has spina bifida like her son, saw the pictures and said, "Mom, that's the sport I really want to play."  I had to admit, it looked like a lot of fun.  I could see why he would be interested in playing it.

At that point, there were no sports team programs specifically for physically disabled kids in the area.  Actually, except for our program, there still are no other sports teams for physically disabled kids in the area.

When my son saw the pictures of sled hockey, I started calling the rinks around.

"Do you have a sled hockey program?"

Next rink:
"Do you have a sled hockey program?"

I called many rinks around the area and I got the same response.  Luckily, I was letting my fingers do the walking rather than wasting gas.

Finally, I got smart and called USA Hockey.  "Hi.  I'm in Southern California, and I wanted to know which ice rinks in my area have sled hockey."

Their response was, "There are no rinks in your area that have sled hockey.  Would you like to start a team?"

That is where it all began.

Our first clinic was in May of 2009.  PossAbilities sponsored the ice time, and USA Hockey sent out sleds and a couple of athletes: Dave Conklin, a Paralympic gold and bronze medalist in sled hockey, and Ray Free of the Sacramento Lightning.  It was a rollicking success.  We had about 40 people get in sleds for the very first time.
A group shot of some of the participants of the 2009 clinic.  

Organizationally, we were on cloud nine that we were able to get so many people out.  We thought we'd be able to pair up with some other disabled sports programs and get added on as another branch of their overall programs, but that just wasn't going to work out.

We had out second clinic in May, 2010, and this time about 80 people got into sleds.  Our third clinic was in September, 2011, and about 60-80 people got into sleds.

Still, although sled hockey is obviously a very desired sports program, it's been difficult to move past the clinics and get the team going, so our athletes can learn, drill, improve, and eventually play games and tournaments.

That is why teaming up with the Junior Reign organization will be such a win-win for us and them.  They get the distinction of being the only Southern California program with a sled component.  We get the organizational and fundraising backing of an established hockey program, along with the support as we navigate the waters.

We are very excited, and we feel this is an extremely positive step forward.  No, it's not even a step.  It's a second wind in the middle of the marathon, allowing us to sprint toward our goal of establishing an actual team and program for physically disabled kids (and adults).

Nick, the very first time he got to try out a sled at our 2009 clinic.  He was 8 years old.  

Nick at the most recent clinic in September, 2011.  He is now 11, and it's high time we get this program going into a regular team.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A New Sled

I can't wait for the day when getting another new sled will be "old hat" to us. For now, getting a new sled is a day of celebration!

We got a new sled!!!

It's not exactly "new."  Still, it's a sled, and I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

The package came by UPS, and we knew it was coming.  Still, when the box got here, I had just pulled into the driveway, coming home from work, so I had a momentary lapse of understanding.

A package?  Why are we getting a package?  It's not close enough to Christmas...

Oh!  Yes, now I remember!  It's our sled!

Nick, Todd, and I opened the box.  Nick was excited, until he realized it was not all in one piece.  Don't worry Nick, we have tools!

Yep, we had our very own "Colorado Sled Hockey" sled.  It's nice of them to send us one that's marked.  That way, we'll be able to use it when we beat them in a game in a couple of years.  When we do, we have plans to point out that we beat them using one of their sleds.

It's not quite all put together, but it's together enough that you get the picture.

As an added bonus, they also sent us three face masks to go on our mask-less helmets!  That was a big surprise, and we are thrilled.  I'm not sure when the last time was that a face mask thrilled me.  Maybe this is the very first time it ever happened.  See!  It was a momentous day!

We have many thanks for the fantastic people with Colorado Sled Hockey.  If you want to find out more about their program, click here.  To summarize, the association has about 40 sleds, and they are sponsored by the Colorado Avalanche.  They have an adults' team and a kids' team.  When we went to the USA Hockey Western Sled Hockey Conference, we met Corey Fairbanks and Bruce Grandchamp.  They are both wonderful guys, and they bragged a lot (well...Corey bragged a lot) about winning the 2011 National Sled Hockey Championship.  Two members of the US National Team are from their team.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Western Sled Hockey Conference

Nope, not in Paris, France.  Not even close.  This conference was in Vegas, and despite the fact that casinos such as Paris (pictured) and Bellagio were in the vicinity and calling us, a bunch of people from sled hockey programs in the Western United States (and some from states that might not be considered exactly Western) descended on Las Vegas for the first ever Western Sled Hockey Conference put on by USA Hockey.

One treat of the conference was that the entire US National Team was there in Las Vegas with us.  They had practice every evening, and they also had a social activity with the rest of us (not to mention meeting them in the elevator and lobby because we were all staying at the same hotel).  It was important to see how good sled hockey was done.  Most of the programs represented dealt with beginner and intermediate players of the game, and it was  good to get tutorials about how the excellent players cradle the puck and turn their sleds.  

Since all of this talent was in Las Vegas, it was a good time for the Vegas sled program to hold a clinic.  I doubt this little boy knew he was being helped by Josh Pauls, one of the best sled hockey players in the world.  The boy in the background probably didn't realize he was getting his sled adjusted by Bill Sandberg, the equipment manager of the US National Team.  

The conference itself was extremely informative.  There were sessions about creating a sled hockey organization, equipment management, coaching (both on and off the ice), fund raising, off-ice training (shoulder and back exercises), and many other topics.  

There were many people from California, including us, Kay Robertson, Rhonda and Mel Waidmann (starting a program in Oxnard), Kellie and Chris Hays (Disabled Hockey Pacific District Director), Steve Laing (CA USA Hockey Pacific District Director), Scott Hay (starting a program in Bakersfield), and Trooper Johnson (starting a program in Oakland).  Above is a picture of all of us plotting how we're going to take over the world... or at least organize sled hockey in California.  

In addition to the seminars, we had some on-ice time to try the sleds and learn coaching/playing skills to take back to our programs.    Above, Keith Blase is using Taylor Lipsett and Taylor Chace to show us skills.

We even got to try out sleds and see how difficult the sport was.  We mastered getting around on the ice pretty well, but stopping was another story!  It is very difficult to use sticks to make yourself move and for puck handling at the same time. Many skills take the use of both sides of the body, both sides of the brain, and the ability to multi-task to another level. Our sled hockey players are super intelligent in order to play this game well!

The Waidmanns also got on the ice.  They came out to our clinic in September, and their kids loved it so much they have committed to starting a program in Oxnard, closer to their own home.  

 Of course, being Vegas, we did have some time to play in other ways as well.  Above, Kyung-Moon Shin, a South Korean transplant to California, eats sushi with Brock Waidmann.  We're in the background, enjoying our sushi as well.  

We didn't win big at the slots or cards in Vegas.  However, the information and contacts we got from the conference were so incredibly valuable that we feel much richer. More importantly, our program will be richer as well.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

DisAbility Sports Festival 2011

We had a great time at the DisAbility Sports Festival on Saturday, October 1.  We had a sled hockey booth where people could sign up for more information.  Some interesting contacts were made, including many people who were unfamiliar with the sport, or did not know that we were playing it out here.  Hopefully, those contacts will translate into more athletes, more support, and more resources.  The photo above is what our booth looked like.  We had a sled on display, flyers, and a sign-up sheet.

Maybe in the coming years we can actually demo the sport at the Festival.  The problem is that Cal State has no ice, even on the coldest winter day.  There are some options for a sled hockey demo.  One option is to outfit some sleds with roller equipment.  Mobility Sports sells roller accessories so that we could modify the sleds for gymnasiums and so on.  They use wheels like rollerblades, and instead of the ice pics, the sticks have crutch tips on them to move across the floor.  Below is a selection of some of the modifications they offer.

Another possibility is to use synthetic ice.  Here is a link to one of the many businesses that sells synthetic ice. It looks like each sheet is about $50, so for $500 or $1,000 we could have a surface that is good enough to demo sled hockey on.  

Of course, all of those options are pie-in-the-sky right now.  We're still raising money to buy the basic equipment such as sleds, ice time, helmets, and pads.  We're in no position to purchase the equipment to demo the sport without ice.  Still, a person can dream, right?

Aaron Moffett, the founder of the DisAbility Sports Festival has been a great supporter of our program from the beginning, and we are so happy to have his support.  In his opening remarks, he said that about 40% of able-bodied people get the Surgeon General's recommended 90 minutes of exercise each week, but only 10% of persons with disabilities get the recommended amount of exercise.  That is a travesty, and it's something we are working together to change!

Kyoung-Moon Shin, a member of South Korea's sled hockey team came out to the festival and helped us with our booth.  He also tried out archery.  He's pretty good at it!

Nick Jenkins and Brock Waidmann tried out wheelchair basketball, kayaking, handcycling, and archery.  They had a great day, but, of course, sled hockey is their love.