A Ray Of Hope From The Sunshine ProjectSERVE Volunteers In EducationSt. Peter Claver Catholic Scholarship FundTampa Bay SLED Hockey ProgramEveryday Blessings For Foster ChildrenThe Spring Of Tampa Bay, Where Family Abuse EndsA Gift For TeachingOn Wednesday, May 31 the Lightning Foundation, charitable arm of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the St. Pete Times Forum, presented nine financial grants to charities in the Tampa Bay community totaling more than $70,000. Marking the first time in its history that the foundation has conducted a grant program, the event signaled the evolution and continued growth of the Lightning Foundation which aims to be a leader in Tampa Bay, helping to make our community a better place to live, work and play.
Below is the fourth of nine features that will run weekdays on tampabaylightning.com, detailing each program that received a grant and why it was selected by the Lightning Foundation's Board of Directors. For more information on each program or to learn how you can help please look for the link at the end of the story.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING SLED HOCKEY PROGRAM
Like many sports fans in the Tampa Bay area, Travis Leigh was a diehard Buccaneers fan who knew little about hockey when he was captivated by the Tampa Bay Lightning team that surprisingly made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 1996. Only 13 at the time, Leigh became an instant fan of the team and the sport, and longed to know the feeling of skating down the ice with a puck on his stick.
He tried ice skating, but cerebral palsy prevented him from achieving his dream. "Cerebral palsy affects people in different ways," said Leigh, now 23. "For me, it affects my motor skills in my legs and it affects my balance. I tried ice skating a couple of times, but it just never worked."
So Leigh shelved his hockey dreams, but stayed as close to the sport as possible. While at Plant High, he served as a team advisor for the school's ice hockey club team, and at college at California State University-Chico, he did the same for the school's roller hockey team.
"But I always felt like I wanted to be out there," Leigh said.
Then a friend mentioned the sled hockey teams he'd seen back home in British Columbia. Intrigued, Leigh hit the internet to learn all he could. He quickly discovered a club team - ironically named the Lightning - two hours away in Sacramento.
Dream finally realized.
"Hockey's my life," he said. "I've always wanted to be a part of it. It's like a family; on the team you have your brothers."
After two years of playing in Sacramento and as his time in college was coming to an end, Leigh decided to stop by the Lightning offices while home for the Holidays. Though he came in to inquire about an internship with the broadcasting department (his college major), he asked if the Lightning might be interested in a sled hockey program.
"What I've wanted for a long time is to put a sled hockey team in Tampa," Leigh said. "[Lightning Director of Fan Development] David Cole came up to talk to me and was very positive about it. It surprised me because I was so used to people saying no."
Leigh then submitted a business proposal to Nancy Crane, Executive Director of the Lightning Foundation, and a program was born. Leigh will start work at the Lightning offices in the next few weeks to allow other Tampa-area hockey fans to realize their dreams as well.
ABOUT SLED HOCKEY:
Sled hockey was invented at a Swedish rehabilitation center in the early 1960s by a group of Swedes who, despite their physical impairment, wanted to continue playing hockey. The men modified a sled and used round poles with bike handles for sticks. The sport caught on and in 1969 Stockholm hosted the first international ice sled hockey match between a local club team and one from Oslo, Norway.
Two Swedish national teams played an exhibition match at the inaugural 1976 Paralympic Winter Games in Sweden. However, sled hockey did not become an official event until the Lillehammer 1994 Paralympic Winter Games. Canada, Norway, Sweden, Great Britain, the U.S., Japan and Estonia have dominated international competitions, but the sport is growing with club teams now established in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Russia and Korea.
Among the differences between sled hockey and traditional ice hockey:
- Instead of skates, players sit in specially designed sleds. These sleds sit on top of two hockey skate blades.
- There are two sticks for each player instead of one. These sticks are about 1/3 the length of a regulation stick depending on the size of the player. They also have metal picks on the butt end of the stick.
- At most rinks, the bench is inaccessible. Therefore, the players sit on the ice along the boards in front of the benches between the blue line and red line. The same goes for penalties. They sit in front of the penalty box.
You can learn more about sled hockey at the official site of the U.S. Sled Hockey Association,www.usahockey.com/ussha/main_site/main/home/. Additional information about the Tampa Bay Lightning Sled Hockey program is coming soon to Tampabaylightning.com.