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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.  

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