By Michael Svac, USA Hockey Central District Representative for Disabled Hockey
The 14th annual Disabled Hockey Festival will be hosted in Chicago in April of 2018. Disabled athletes from all over the United States and Canada will be competing at all ages and skill levels in the following Disabled Hockey disciplines: Sled Hockey, Special Hockey, Blind Hockey, Warrior Hockey, Standing/Amputee Hockey and Deaf/Hard of Hearing Hockey.
The event will be held at the Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee, Illinois, over two weekends. All Disabled Hockey disciplines (except Sled) will be held Thursday, April 5 through Sunday, April 8, 2018. The Sled Hockey competition will be held the following week beginning on Thursday, April 12 and running through Sunday, April 15, 2018.
Over the next several months we will introduce each disabled discipline and some of our local hockey players who compete in each disabled category.
This month’s spotlight will focus on those hockey players that have visual impairments. USA Hockey identifies this discipline as “Blind Hockey”.
Blind Hockey has been played throughout Canada for many years, but several years ago hockey players with visual impairments from the United States were invited to Canada to participate in a Blind Hockey event. From there, the foundation of blind hockey in the United States began and several cities throughout the country started programs that provided individuals with visual impairments an opportunity to play hockey. In Chicago, the Blind Hockey program was launched in October of 2015 and was the first Blind Hockey program to be fully supported and sponsored by an NHL team, the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey (CBBH) program has grown to over 20 players ranging in age from 7 to 38 with varying levels of skill. The CBBH team has players who have never skated before to others that played competitive hockey but have lost their vision and are now legally blind. The program continues to grow each year and could not be possible without the volunteers who manage the program off the ice and the dedicated coaches who have provided the foundation to develop the skills of these Hockey players.
MEET CBBH’S GILLIAN WARD
Gillian Ward, a senior at Addison Trail High School had never skated or played hockey until 3 years ago. She is legally blind but enjoys everything that life has to offer including swimming and tubing in the summer and blind skiing and sledding in the winter. She has rock climbed and kayaked and enjoys riding roller coasters at theme parks.
Gillian is now a leader on the ice and she practices with patient determination. She has also had the opportunity to compete in scrimmages and games at both the 2016 and 2017 Blind Hockey Summits and is looking forward to playing in this year’s Disabled Festival.
She is a member of Addison Trail’s Wind Ensemble, in which she plays the clarinet. The Blazers perform a halftime show during the football season and have opportunities to provide pep band music for basketball games. She is a member of the National Honors Society and the Tri-M Honors society (for music students) where students are identified as being leaders in both academic and peer settings. They perform volunteer hours in the community. Gillian has played goalball on the SASED Team (School Association for Special Education in DuPage County) for the past 4 years and this year for the first time with a full girls’ competition team. Gillian is an excellent student and has been on the High Honor Roll all 4 years of high school. In her senior year, she plans to compete in DECA, a business club that helps high school students discover interests in the business and marketing industries. She shows tremendous courage in tackling the game of ice hockey.
Gillian’s visual impairment is called Retinitis Pigmentosa. She has a very small visual field (about 5%) and is blind in the dark. Despite the challenge that this presents, she is a hard-working student who leads with a quiet strength and resolve and does not allow this obstacle to get in her way.
Gillian is only one of many of the athletes that participate in the Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey program. If you are interested in learning more about the Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey program please visit the CBBH website at: www.ChicagoBlackhawksBlindHockey.com.
We invite you to come out and support hockey players with visual impairments at the Disabled Festival. There will be two divisions based on skill level and visual impairments. The game schedules will be posted on the USA Hockey website in March. Players throughout the United states and Canada will be on hand to compete for four days during the first week of the festival, April 5-8, 2017, at the Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee, Illinois.
NOTES: The Festival Planning Committee is asking for your help in identifying and securing sponsorship opportunities to support the financial needs for this USA Hockey National Event for hockey players with disabilities. The Sponsorship Committee is looking to raise $100,000 and we need your help to achieve our goal. This request is open to corporate sponsors, individual sponsors and our local hockey clubs throughout Illinois.
If you would like to become a sponsor or make a personal donation please contact Michael Svac at firstname.lastname@example.org. All proceeds will go to the 14th Annual Disabled Hockey Festival and will directly benefit ALL Hockey Players with a disability in Illinois.
VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES: Attendance is projected to bring over 1000 players to the Chicago area for this exciting annual event. The program committee is looking for volunteers to assist in running the event. If interested in volunteering please contact Michael Svac, USA Hockey Central District Representative for Disabled Hockey, at email@example.com.