The Sharks Foundation recently welcomed more than 500 differently abled students from across the Bay Area to Solar4America Ice at San Jose for a week of free ice skating.
The group of students was organized through adapted physical education teachers in San Mateo County, who have hosted an annual skate program for the last 10 years.
"It started out with one to two days of skating per year," Angeline Sheridan, Adapted Physical Education Specialist, Palo Alto Unified School District said. "There was such a huge demand, that the skating program grew to 10 days of skating last year alone."
Yet the adapted physical education group fell into a number of road blocks throughout the last decade, including the closing of local rinks, which donated their ice time to the program free of charge.
"Sadly rinks all over the Bay Area have been closing," Sheridan said. "We started the program at Bridgepointe in San Mateo, which has closed. Then Belmont Iceland gave us a home for our program until they closed last year. Finding a rink in the San Mateo area that could accommodate our large and unique group was proving to be difficult."
In December, the Sharks Foundation's inaugural "Big Give" program advanced special needs hockey through a $30,000 donation of hockey equipment, ice time and USA Hockey registration fees to the adaptive physical education class at Sequoia High School in Redwood City.
After hearing about the Big Give, Sheridan contacted the Sharks Foundation to see if they could help.
"I decided to reach out to one of the Bay Area's best sports teams, the Sharks and their Foundation, and see if they had any recommendations on how to keep our program running," Sheridan continued. "They responded with great enthusiasm and got our program running for this year with the help of Solar4America Ice."
The Sharks Foundation and Solar4America Ice at San Jose quickly teamed-up to offer free ice time from March 6-10 for the students. In addition, with many of the kids coming from as far as Millbrae, the Foundation provided busses for transportation over the five-day span.
"The buses were a huge hit," Sheridan said. "Without them, 200 students would not have been able to participate."
Students who participated throughout the week ranged in age from kindergarten to 22 years old and came from 12 different schools in the Palo Alto Unified School District. More than 200 staff and family members were on hand to enjoy the experience.
"It truly is one of our student's favorite days of the year," Sheridan said. "For many, it's the first time they ever get to experience ice skating. For some, it's the first time they ever get to experience what it feels like to feel speed and motion. And for others, it's their first time in the cold."
In total, the Sharks Foundation and Solar4America Ice at San Jose donated $6,600 in complimentary ice time, skate rentals and transportation.