|Ice Frogs provide hockey for players with developmental disabilities (02-14-13)|
|Written by KEVIN GORDON Sentinel Assistant Sports Editor|
|Thursday, 14 February 2013 10:52|
One local hockey team is providing the opportunity for youngsters with developmental disabilities to play the sport they love.
The Bowling Green-based Black Swamp Ice Frogs have seven players, ranging in age from 4-17, with developmental disabilities.
The team gets together once a week at the Ice Arena.
"I just saw a need and the want for the special program," said Mike Howick, who formed the team in September and helps coach the team.
Howick's 7-year-old son, Jack, is a member of the Ice Frogs. He has Autism.
The Ice Frogs are one of 10 teams playing in the second annual United Commercial Travelers Winter Hockey Festival for special hockey athletes at Ottawa Park in Toledo on Saturday and Sunday.
The festival is part of the American Special Hockey Association.
The ASHA has 50-80 teams each year in 30 cities, totaling 1,500 players, ASHA president Mike Hickey said.
Hickey said the majority of the players have Autism, Down syndrome or other developmental disabilities.
"It's just the environment that people of similar skill levels are there," Howick said. "It's an understanding of the limited skills and the abilities they have. We have lots of people helping, so we have 1-on-1 help for the kids. Everyone wants to compete at a high level, but we also keep it fun."
The Ice Frogs have a wide range of skill levels, Howick said, including "some kids who can skate and use the stick pretty well. We have people who can't skate or can barely skate, but now are learning how to skate and now they're going to try the hockey part of it."
Howick said the team has 7-10 volunteer coaches.
"We're just teaching the kids the skills of the game," Howick said. "We had one player who couldn't even stand on his skates, not communicating, not playing, not able to use his stick. But he's been at it for three, four months, now he's skating on his own three, four times around the multi-purpose sheet, so that's a success. Watching the players improve is so rewarding."
This weekend's festival also includes teams from Ann Arbor, Detroit, Indianapolis and Columbus. The teams will be divided by ability level.
"We're more of a therapeutic program rather than a competitive program," Hickey said. "We don't concentrate on the score, although the athletes know the score. We don't want to take that (the competition away) from them."
With just seven players, the Ice Frogs don't have enough to form a full team. Howick said a couple of the Ice Frogs will play for other teams in the festival.
"They've really enjoyed the experience. It's been a great atmosphere," Howick said. "Most of the parents involved have played hockey. It's a relaxed atmosphere, to get the kids out playing."
Howick said the Ice Frogs' biggest challenge is "to get the word out" about the team.
"People are interested once they know about us," Howick said. "We're open to all ages. We are always looking for more players and volunteers, and people to help get the word out. We want them to give it a try. ''We're for the people who really have the physical capabilities, but maybe have Downs or Autism that they just can't function in a normal environment."
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