(WSVN) – The Florida Panthers IceDen hosted a two-day national hockey tournament to support a group of hockey players with special needs.
The ice center believes the message is that hockey is for everyone.
“All of the athletes here have disabilities ranging from autism spectrum to cerebral palsy and a few other developmental disabilities,” said American Special Hockey Association (ASHA) executive director Jen O’Brien. “The assumption is that if someone has the label, they are disabled. Sometimes it means people think they can’t do something.
National Association of Athletes with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) players are proving to their community that they can play the game at the highest level.
Hockey players from 13 different states came to Florida to participate in this national tournament. Among them is goalkeeper Stephen Baggett, who plays for his home team in Washington DC
“I always had a knack for it and I liked to prove to some people I knew in high school who said I wouldn’t stand for anything,” Baggett said. “I like when they doubt me because then I prove them wrong.”
Forward Jared Hall flew in from Alaska to take part in the competition.
“A lot of people I’ve played with, they loved the way I played and stuff,” Hall said. “The coaches I’ve had over the years really like the development I’ve had and I’ve just become a good skater.”
One of the highlights of the event was meeting and talking to Florida Panthers forward Ryan Lomberg.
“I love, you know, being able to share something through hockey,” Lomberg said. “You know, we smile together and enjoy the game. [It’s] brings us all together. »
Panther vice president of community relations John Colombo said growth in special hockey is emerging.
“I think we’re really interested in, you know, making sure that any kid who wants the chance to play hockey has that opportunity,” Colombo said.
The national tournament wasn’t just for kids with special needs, as local South Florida high schoolers without disabilities played alongside their exceptional teammates. David Ross, a forward for the Pembroke Pines Charter hockey team, said he’s always heard that people with mental disabilities can’t participate in certain activities.
“They’re like everyone else,” Ross said. “Labels shouldn’t be something that defines them.”
The Panther’s Foundation hosted a weekend tournament with a $20,000 grant that covered everything, including ice time for drills, skills competition, and all meals.
They also provided personalized jerseys to all players who participated in this event.
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