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EveryBODY Skates NJ promotes special-needs access

by John McGourty
One of the many wonderful programs included in Hockey Weekend Across America is EveryBODY Skates New Jersey, a group of disabled hockey players who will visit all 54 ice-hockey rinks in New Jersey over a 54-hour span to promote awareness and access.

The promotion starts Friday at 10 a.m. in the NHL Powered by Reebok Store at 1185 Avenue of the Americas in New York City. Members of the group will be joined by NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and ESPN's E.J. Hradek before heading out in two groups to visit every rink in New Jersey.

You can help support their efforts by shopping at the store. Twenty percent of NHL Store proceeds from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Friday will go to EveryBODY Skates New Jersey through the American Special Hockey Association.

"When my brother, Jon, started his program, the New Jersey Dare Devils, eight years ago, he had five kids. Now, there are four fully accredited American Special Hockey Association teams serving hundreds of children and adults in New Jersey," said Andrew Schwartz, co-founder of EveryBODY Skates New Jersey. Andrew Schwartz also is the head coach of the New York Rangers' Sled Hockey program.

"We are fully supported by the Rangers, who give us practice time at their practice rink in Greenburg, N.Y.," Andrew Schwartz said. "They provide jerseys, socks and uniforms for the coaches. The Wheelchair Sports Federation provides a majority of our funding for purchasing player equipment."

"We believe that hockey, in and of itself, is the ultimate occupational therapy. Hockey lets players work on not only physical activity, but also teamwork, responsibility, and interaction with other kids and adults." -- Andrew Schwartz, co-founder of EveryBODY Skates NJ

The New Jersey Devils also have been strong supporters and a team official encouraged Devils' players to support ESNJ's petition to encourage rinks to provide ice time to special-needs teams. Captain Jamie Langenbrunner, also captain of Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics, is among the signers. The organization is picking up steam fast. A recent editorial in the Bergen (N.J.) Record supported their effort and over 2,000 people have signed the petition.

"There are over 1.4 million New Jerseyans who are disabled, a huge community that needs an outlet for physical fitness," Andrew Schwartz said. "We believe that hockey, in and of itself, is the ultimate occupational therapy. Hockey lets players work on not only physical activity, but also teamwork, responsibility, and interaction with other kids and adults.

"It's important for the disabled to have stimulation for their minds, but given that obesity and depression have a high prevalence among the disabled, physical-activity is often something they lack."

In addition to support from the NHL, its member teams and USA Hockey, EveryBODY Skates New Jersey also has received financial support from Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

Eleven players will join the Schwartz brothers on the weekend odyssey, including Josh Pauls and Tim Jones, two members of the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team that won gold earlier this week in Japan, an important pre-Olympic tournament. Five other members of the group represent the USA in other national and international competitions.

Members of EveryBODY Skates New Jersey will be honored during Sunday's game at Newark's Prudential Center between the Los Angeles Kings and the Devils at 5 p.m. ET.

"The New Jersey Devils, Prudential Center, and AmeriHealth Pavilion are proud to be a part of USA Hockey's Hockey Weekend Across America," said Devils CEO, President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello. "We are all looking forward to welcoming EveryBODY Skates New Jersey to Sunday's game vs. Los Angeles, as they complete their tour of 54 New Jersey-based rinks in 54 hours. We encourage rinks across the Garden State to set aside one hour of ice time per week for disabled hockey."

Go to to sign their petition in support of their mission to bring disabled hockey to every rink in New Jersey.

Elsewhere during Hockey Weekend Across America, Chicago Blackhawks right wing Dustin Byfuglien will conduct a clinic with 50 players in the Hockey Is For Everyone program at the Homewood-Flossmoor Ice Arena, 777 Kedzie Ave., Flossmoor, IL, at 4 p.m. Sunday. The Blackhawks have several promotions supporting Hockey Weekend Across America. Team mascot Tommy Hawk will visit May-Watts Elementary School at 800 So. Whispering Hills Drive in Naperville at 10:30 a.m. Friday to hand out free skate passes to local rinks in support of "Wear Your Jersey to School or Work Day."

The Blackhawks have teamed up with several local rink partners to promote Saturday's "Give Hockey a Try Day." The following rinks will hold free skating and hockey sessions from 11 a.m.-12 p.m.: International Ice Center at 1581 W. Normantown Road in Romeoville, Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion at 1500 Abbott Court in Buffalo Grove, Leafs Ice Centre at 801 Wesemann, Dr. in West Dundee, Fox Valley Ice Arena at 1996 S. Kirk Rd in Geneva, and West Meadows Ice Arena at 3939 Winnetka Ave in Rolling Meadows.

Over 200 athletes participate in Hockey Is For Everyone initiatives at Homewood-Flossmoor, Fox Valley and Riis Park rinks three times a week.
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