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Hockey for everyone (04-18-13) PDF Print E-mail
Written by DEBBIE ROGERS Sentinel Staff Writer   
Thursday, 18 April 2013 10:51
AJ Digby collects hockey pucks during the Adaptive Sports of Ohio sled hockey team practice at the BGSU ice arena on Sunday afternoon. (Photos: Shane Hughes/Sentinel-Tribune)
When Bowling Green State University hockey players Tommy Burke and Andrew Wallace take the ice on Saturday, they’ll need all the upper-body strength they can muster and a different focus to the sport.
Burke, a goalie, and Wallace, a forward, are participating in a Walleye Sled Hockey Charity Game to benefit the local team that plays through Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio. The sled hockey team is made up of area youths with disabilities, and the money raised pays for their ice time at the Ice Arena.
Burke, Wallace and their teammates practice every Sunday afternoon with the sled hockey team.
“We’ve enjoyed it as much as the kids,” Wallace said.
But this week will be different.
The BGSU players will sit in the sleds, effectively immobilizing their lower bodies.
“It’ll be pretty tough,” Burke said. “It’s going to be a difference experience.”
Lisa Followay, executive director for the Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio, said she’d be surprised if the college players get more than a couple shots off — it’s that challenging.
“This is their first time being in sleds. It will be interesting to see their experience,” she said. “For a typical hockey player, they’re standing up and maneuvering themselves on the ice ... but with this you’re propelling yourself on ice with two sticks.”
The sticks are also used to shoot the puck.
Nate Pelow (left) helps teach Gabe Anteau during the team practice.
Members of the BGSU hockey team work with kids during the Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio sled team practice.
There are several young local players from Wood County who will be on the ice Saturday. A.J. Digby is a freshman from Tontogany and a bilateral amputee. Jaydon Jenkins, from Cygnet, has transverse myelitis. Jenna Gallant, a kindergartner at Pemberville Elementary, and Eric Rine, a Bowling Green sixth-grader, both have spina bifida.
Cole Sonner, who is also a Bowling Green Middle School student, found out about the sled hockey program through the Rine family. Cole’s mom, Ann, said her son leads an extremely active lifestyle, including Upward basketball and dodgeball and baseball through the city’s parks and recreation department, despite suffering nerve damage from a tumor that he was born with. Cole is also a cancer survivor.
“He’s very, very competitive. He loves playing all sports,” Ann Sonner said. “Any competition he can be involved with, he loves.”
Followay said sled hockey — or any adaptive sport — experience can be a life-changing event for a child with a disability.
“It just takes away the disability, it doesn’t even matter. You’re just there with friends. It’s so freeing for them,” said Followay, whose 16-year-old son Casey has spina bifida. “When we give them a sporting opportunity, we get them active and healthy, plus it benefits them socially and emotionally.”
The area sled hockey team has been organized for two years. The typical season runs from late fall through April. The team often travels out of state to compete.
Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio, which is based in Wooster, also offers archery, swimming track and basketball opportunities for youths with disabilities.
The biggest challenge is the cost of adaptive sports, she said. It costs $1,000 to equip one sled hockey player; the sled alone is $600.
Wheelchair track is the most popular adaptive sport right now, Followay said, and the most expensive. The track chairs cost $3,000.
The group relies on grants and fundraisers to buy the equipment. The youth and their families are not charged, she said.
Saturday’s benefit at BGSU will go toward paying for ice time, which can run about $200 an hour, Followay said.
She said the local support has been incredible. The Toledo Walleye agreed to lend their name to the sled team.
Sonner added that the BGSU hockey team has been there since the beginning, picking up kids when they fall and pushing the younger ones around the rink.
“They’ve been amazing coming out to our practices and helping us on ice. They’re very giving to our organization and of their time,” Followay said.

The sled hockey benefit game is Saturday from 3:15 to 5:15 p.m. at the Ice Arena. Doors open at 2:15 p.m.
Admission is $5 per person, and free for children ages 5 and under.
Participating will be members of the area sled hockey team, the BGSU hockey team and Paralympic gold medalists from Team USA.

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