The frozen rink at Ottawa Park heated up on Saturday as hockey stars from the American Special Hockey Association laced up their skates at the 2013 UCT Winter Hockey Festival.
The second annual festival featured friendly competition between eight teams from across the mid-west. Although skill sets varied, every ASHA player shares the unique challenge of learning hockey while living with a developmental disability. Although ASHA players skated hard to put the puck in the net, the main goal of the two-day event is to develop social skills, encourage teamwork, and provide an outlet for fun and enjoyment.
??It??s great for me just to be able to be here, and look around and watch the parents fill in the stands and cheering,?? said ASHA President Mike Hickey. He described the thrill frozen on the young player??s faces, ??You can see they??re really excited about it and they enjoy doing it.??
ASHA currently has 50 teams skating in 30 cities across the United States. A new team in Bowling Green, the Black Swamp Ice Frogs, joins teams from Columbus, Ann Arbor, and Detroit as opportunities for interested players to get involved. Melissa Napier watched through the glass on Saturday as her 14-year-old son took his first shifts in a hockey game.
??I??m pretty excited that he has an opportunity to play in a program like this and I??m very excited to watch him today.?? A former goalie herself, Napier added, ??It??s a really wonderful feeling, a very nostalgic feeling to be out here now with my son a generation later.??
Administrators from the non-profit UCT presented ASHA with a $20,000 donation during the opening ceremony.
??For more than half a century UCT has supported individuals with intellectual disabilities and this festival marks the beginning of our third year partnership with ASHA and our commitment to promote special hockey both at the local and national level,?? said UCT International President Larry Pilon.
Former hockey player and current Ohio Representative Barbara Sears was also on hand to drop the puck for the festival??s ceremonial face-off.
ASHA has about 70,000 female and male members of all ages. The association offers funds to local councils interested in starting special hockey teams.