By Mary Ann Maskery | Special to LAKings.com
|The California Condors, the first special needs hockey team in California.
They call their team the California Condors - young people with special needs who play every Sunday afternoon at the Valley Ice Center in Panorama City.
The group accepts special needs ranging from autism to mental retardation, seizures and cerebral palsy. The team includes boys and girls and players of every level, even those who have never skated before. They learn to skate very quickly. And they love the game.
As one mother describes it, “They love the high fives, the camaraderie, the teamwork, and, of course, the incredible thrill of getting the puck in the net.”
At present, the players range in age from 12 to 37. On the ice, all are equal.
The general public is familiar with the Special Olympics, but hockey is not part of that program. Special needs ice hockey is widely supported in Canada and has spread to many states in this country. But not to California - until this still small program started up at Valley Ice Center. It is the first and still only such program in California.
This special needs hockey team is the brainchild of Rita Eagle, whose son was able to play in similar programs when the family was living in Toronto. She works with other parents to maintain the project and to encourage other players to join. Their purpose is to establish a safe, supportive environment where young people can learn to play and enjoy ice hockey, protected by caring coaches, strict rules and lots of padding.
Why bother with hockey, when other sports are available to special needs people? Hockey requires skills not used in other sports - skating being the most obvious. It stretches their horizons, mentally and physically. One mother says of her son, “He’s proud of himself.”
They get the ice time thanks to rink general manager Jocelyn Langlois. The program is supported by two experienced coaches on the ice - Ethan Rill, coach, and Patrick Hinkle, assistant coach. Youngsters - the same age as the special needs players - also take part in the weekly practice, working one on one to help the players improve individual skills.
The rink supplies some equipment when it is available, and the program also has received support from the NHL Players Association, which distributes equipment through H.E.L.P., a non-profit that assists this special needs group. The rest is up to the players, to their enthusiasm, excitement and joy in the sport.
This October, the Condors will take part in a special needs tournament in Utah. Also, a younger group (5-10) is in the planning stage.
For Information, contact:
General Manager, Valley Ice Center, Panorama City, CA
Valley Ice Center
8750 Van Nuys Blvd, Panorama City, CA 91402