Take 100 plus special hockey players, the Los Angeles Kings NHL team, a whole lot of ice, and even more enthusiasm, and what have you got? The 4th annual UCT Winter Hockey Festival for American Special Hockey Association (ASHA) athletes with developmental disabilities, that’s what!
The festival is a two-day tournament sponsored for the fourth year by UCT that will bring nine ASHA teams to Valencia, Calif., for some fierce but friendly competition on the ice. Teams will travel from as close by as Valencia, Los Angeles, Pasadena and San Diego and from as far away as Arlington, Va., and Nanaimo, B.C. The festival will run Jan. 17-18 at Ice Station Valencia.
In addition to the tournament games, it will be a busy and eventful weekend for players and their families. Opening Ceremonies, including a medaling ceremony for athletes, will take place on Saturday, and a social event for teams and families featuring food, refreshments, a live band and DJ will follow. The LA Kings NHL program will get in on the action by hosting the “Kings Chariot” fan interactive event for ASHA players on Sunday. The event features LA Kings ice crew and ice dancers as well as Bailey, the team mascot, and includes street clinics, games and hockey tutorials.
Dave Chase is the executive director of SNAP (Special Needs Athletes and Peers) Sports, the parent organization of the Valencia S.N.A.P. Flyers special hockey team, and a primary organizer of this year’s festival. According to Dave, the athletes participating in this year’s tournament aren’t ordinary hockey players – they’re extraordinary in their accomplishments.
“Skill sets vary according to age and experience, but these players all share the challenge of living with developmental disabilities,” he explained. “Special hockey is just that – special. There will be some friendly competition when these players hit the ice, but there will also be a lot of cooperation. Special hockey is unique in that it gives players the chance to develop confidence, social skills and teamwork, which enhances their existence on and off the ice. Athletes with a variety of special needs have found success through special hockey.”
Some of the most common of these special needs are autism, traumatic brain injury, Down syndrome, Tourette syndrome, cerebral palsy and ADD/ADHD. In 2014, the S.N.A.P. Flyers saw the development of their first sight-impaired player. ASHA is a volunteer-driven association created especially to benefit individuals with such disabilities. There are currently over 60 ASHA programs with more than 1,500 players in 30 some cities throughout the U.S.
A longtime supporter of individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities, UCT has sponsored ASHA and helped to promote special hockey nationally since 2010. UCT members support ASHA through volunteer efforts like sponsoring ice time for games and practices, hosting post-practice lunches, helping sponsor tournaments and camps, and holding fundraisers to help teams with travel costs and purchasing necessary equipment. To kick off the fifth year of being ASHA’s proud sponsor, UCT will present a $20,000 donation to the organization at this year’s hockey festival, bringing total contributions given to over $90,000.
We’re looking forward to this year’s festival – and if you’re in the area, please stop by! There really are no words to describe how inspiring these special hockey players are. It’s something you have to experience. If you can’t stop by, be sure to follow the weekend’s action on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/UCTinAction. You can also check out highlights from previous hockey festivals at www.youtube.com/UCTinAction.