By Malisa Komalarajun
Volunteer Coordinator-2018 USA Hockey Disabled Festival
The USA Hockey Disabled Festival was formed to create opportunities for people to compete and challenge themselves beyond conventional limits. The disciplines competing at this year’s Festival are Special Hockey, Blind/Visually Impaired Hockey, Deaf/Hard of Hearing Hockey, Warrior Hockey, Standing Amputee Hockey and Sled Hockey. With courage and determination these athletes overcome fears, break down barriers, and shatter pre-conceived notions as they work toward new goals.
Disabled Hockey’s motto is Hockey is for EveryBODY; hockey should be accessible to anyone. Time and time again, our disabled athletes inspire us to greater heights. Throughout life we look for role models that can drive us to greater achievements. Inspiration reveals itself in many forms, and these athletes offer inspiration for many lifetimes. Over 1800 disabled hockey players from the United States and Canada will participate during a four-day competitive hockey tournament at Leafs Ice Centre (West Dundee, Ill.), Fox Valley Ice Arena (Geneva, Ill.) and the Triphahn Community Center & Ice Arena (Hoffman Estates, Ill.) during two consecutive weekends in April. Blind, Deaf, Special and Warrior/Standing Amputee Hockey will kick off the Disabled Hockey Festival on Thursday, April 5-8, 2018; Sled Hockey will compete the following weekend, April 12-15, 2018.
We have previously featured the disciplines of Blind Hockey, Special Hockey and Warrior Hockey. In Part IV we will shine the spotlight on Deaf/Hard of Hearing Hockey and two of the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association’s (AHIHA) players. This discipline is for the individual who has been diagnosed with a hearing loss. The game is played according to USA Hockey rules and instruction is based on the individual players ability to improve their skills in an environment that is receptive to their needs and demands. The ability to communicate with coaches and other players regardless of their method of communication is a huge focus. Whether a player utilizes sign language, lip reading, hearing aids, or cochlear implants, etc. interpreters are there to make sure they understand the instruction.
Stewart DeLange is an 8th grader from New Baltimore, MI, and has played hockey since he was just 6 years old. While normally a defenseman, he has also tried his hand at both goaltending and left wing. He’s been a part of AHIHA for the past 5 years and is looking forward to coming to this year’s Disabled Hockey Festival.
Stewart got his start in hockey thanks to his father, who encouraged him to start playing. Stewart thought it looked like fun, and since then he’s played for the Colts, SCS Saints, Wolves, Summit, Mustangs, and Mavericks. He’s excited for the festival, not just because he will be playing for AHIHA, but also because he loves the city of Chicago. “It’s fun and I like playing there,” he explains.
When asked how his teams have helped him as an athlete, Stewart cites his friends and his coaches as great influences on him, saying they’ve both helped to improve his hockey skills. Not only that but playing on his teams has helped him learn to work together with teammates and friends, a skill he’s carried back with him to school and other activities. “I really like my team,” he says, “and the positive environment they create both on and off the ice.”
Our second featured player is Hannah Garcia, a 17-year-old from Naperville. Hannah is in her junior year at Hinsdale South High School in Darien and part of a co-op Deaf/Hard of Hearing program there. She has been playing hockey ever since she convinced her mom to sign her up for the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association’s annual summer camp. Hannah, who has moderate hearing loss in both ears, was active in several other sports (basketball, swim team, dance, and softball), but really wanted to try ice hockey. To prepare for camp, her parents signed her up for figure skating lessons. “Thankfully,” she explains, “The coach told my mom to get me hockey skates after my first lesson.”
After that first AHIHA camp in 2012, she knew she wanted to find a local girls team to play on. She joined the Chicago Hawks in their house league, and even though she was a beginner at the time, she worked to quickly learn the game, thanks to some “great teammates and coaches,” she says.
Not only has Hannah enjoyed hockey through her AHIHA family but being a member of the group helped her become a bigger part of the deaf community. “I knew immediately that I wanted to play hockey after my first camp,” she explains, “But more importantly, I desperately wanted to learn American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with my new AHIHA family.” As a freshman, she started an after-school ASL club at her high school. She also worked with her school district to add ASL classes to all three high schools in the district. “I think the most important thing I’ve learned on the ice is how to communicate off the ice with ASL,” she says.
On top of her playing, Hannah has also enjoyed being a junior coach for the Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team since last fall. She said watching all levels of players on the ice never ceases to amaze her and loves how wonderful it feels to be part of a year-round team of inspiring and enthusiastic players.
Hannah is excited for the 2018 Disabled Hockey Festival, as it gives her a chance to play alongside teammates from all over the United States. “For us,” she says, “It’s like a great big family reunion.” She calls these games a fun and rare opportunity, especially as this will be the second time she’s the only girl on the team that represents AHIHA. “The thing I enjoy the most is that for one weekend, we are not individuals competing in a game, we are one team playing for fun and no one cares what level of hearing you do (or don’t) have.”
Hannah truly values the friends she’s made playing hockey, including those playing with other disabilities. She helped convince the parents of a classmate with Down syndrome to sign him up for the Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey team. So far, it seems like a great fit – “Every day, he asks me, ‘is today hockey day?’” she explains.
“I’ve felt honored to have made so many friends…including several gold medalists on the U.S. Sled Hockey Team. The second most important thing I’ve learned from my experience, is that hockey truly is for everybody,” she says. “I love how fast the game moves and how it feels to be a part of a team with one common goal – to score goals. I love that hockey has become so adaptable, allowing players of all abilities to participate on so many levels.”
Categories: Disabled Hockey