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Pens working with AbleGamers to bring hockey and esports to everyone

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Video games help make connections. It was a series of connections that started in May when the Penguins, Cavs Legion, and the Pittsburgh Knights partnered with Point Park University to host an esports event that led to a meeting between the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and AbleGamers. Connections that will help change the lives of thousands.

In preparation for the event, called the Steel City Showdown, Point Park University's Steve Tanzilli was looking for a charitable organization to work with. He came across The AbleGamers Charity and their Chief Operating Officer and Pittsburgh native Steve Spohn.

Tanzilli was so impressed by Spohn that he reached out to James Santilli, Penguins senior vice president of marketing, and said, 'You have to meet Steve.' Once he did, Santilli reached out to Dave Soltesz, president of the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation, and said the same thing: 'You have to meet Steve. He and his organization are incredible and the Penguins Foundation can really help.'

AbleGamers Charity is a nonprofit that wields the power of gaming to break down barriers of economic and social isolation for children, adults and veterans with disabilities. With a combination of technologies such as mouth controllers, eye gaze, and special customized controllers, they find a way for people to play video games no matter their disability.

"We have discovered that video games are the ultimate connector," said Spohn, who has spinal muscular atrophy. "You and I can be a world apart, but we can play video games every night. If you have a mind that's willing and a body that's not able, video games allow you to level that playing field so that you're able to connect and have friendships and be able to play with your friends and family."

After the tournament concluded, a series of conversations and meetings with the Penguins and AbleGamers followed. That led to the Penguins Foundation donating $25,000 to AbleGamers and making a commitment to helping them continue their mission.  

"As a foundation, we care about inclusion," Soltesz said. "We are proud to adopt AbleGamers into our Penguins family as our goal is to bring hockey, esports and gaming to all. This relationship shows that hockey is truly for everyone."

The Hockey is for Everyone initiative uses the game of hockey and the league's influence to drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities - which aligns with AbleGamers' hashtag, #SoEveryoneCanGame.

There are approximately 42 million gamers with disabilities in North America alone, which is an astronomical number. Spohn hopes that the partnership with the Penguins will help reach disabled gamers both here and around the globe and show them that you can be any kind of gamer and still play. 

"The Penguins are a big national brand, so it doesn't necessarily matter if you're in Pittsburgh or even America," Spohn said. "You might be a Penguins fan and you might also be a gamer and you might also be disabled. I think a lot of the large crossover I've seen so far is when it comes out that AbleGamers has been supported by a big brand. Then people who are on that brand's side are now even more so. But the ones who were on the fence were like 'Wow, it's good to see they care.' That's something I will happily go on record as saying, is that the Penguins seem like they care. I hope this is the beginning of a really cool friendship."

For more information on The AbleGamers Charity, please visit their website.

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