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Team gives local children with disabilities a chance to play ice hockey

By Gisele Winton Sarvis, Special to Postmedia Network

Sledge hockey in Simcoe County is building confidence and making athletes out of children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

Saturday marked the Sledge Hockey Celebrity Game Fundraiser at the Stayner Memorial Arena where the children’s team was pitted against an adult celebrity team co-captained by Alastair Connolly, CTV Barrie sports broadcaster and Jamie Hall, Chay Today 93.1 morning show host. The celebrity team also included Huronia West OPP Staff Sgt. Mike Burton, and pastor Tony Denbok of the Clearview Community Church.

“It gives kids a chance that have never had a chance to play a sport,” said Sliders’ president Darren Cunliffe. “A lot of these kids on our team that have been told they can’t, and now they can,” he added.

The crowd laughed when the adults tumbled their sleds and cheered when the children scored and won the game 3-2.

Funds are being tallied from the event and will be used for equipment, tournaments, ice time and other team expenses.

“Hockey is not cheap,” said Cunliffe, who was hoping to raise between $5,000 to $10,000. “We try to keep our costs lower because a lot of our families have increased expenses because their children have increased needs,” he added.

At Saturday night’s event the Wasaga Beach Lion’s Club and the Kinsmen Club of Stayner and District each donated $1,000 to the team. In total $8,300 was raised from the Sledge hockey fundraising event.

The team started last January with nine players as a practice season.

“We wanted the kids to learn and learn the principals of the game and see if there was the interest to move forward and become competitive and there was,” Cunliffe explained.

This year the team has 19 members and plays in the junior development division of Ontario Sledge Hockey Association. Five teams in the north-east division also include Peterborough, Ottawa, Whitby and Port Hope. They play a 10-game season plus tournaments.

Practice time and home games are Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at the Stayner Memorial Arena and the public is welcome to come out and watch the players aged 6 to 14.

Team members come from Orillia, Barrie, Stayner, Nottawa, Wasaga Beach, Angus, Alliston, Mansfield and Shelburne.

Goalie Peter Ma, 9, from Barrie, said he’s enjoying sledge hockey.

“It’s easy to move around. It’s just easy for disabled people.”

Ma said he likes being on a team and he has made five new friends.

Mark Rogers, 10, from Shelburne, who plays forward said he likes “body checking” the best and is looking forward to scoring his first goal.

Glenda Brocklebank, of Angus, has all three of her children on the team including Justin and Julia, who are both six and eight-year-old Jayson.

Justin, who has cerebral palsy, scored the team’s first goal this season. It was also the team’s first game win and first shut out, for a game win and first shut out. He also scored a goal Saturday night.

“He can do anything but walk. Sledge hockey makes them all equal,” Brocklebank said.

Brocklebank said it’s exciting for her children to be able to play a team sport together, meet new friends and go on tournaments. She added that her children have really enjoyed being able to talk about sledge hockey to their friends and make presentations about the sport at their school.

Coach Khai Ma said the most rewarding part of coaching is the smiles that light up the little children's faces.

“Seeing the smiles on their faces when they’ve had a good practice or a good game," ma said. "It’s about being able to play our national sport hockey.”

For more information or to make a donation to the team go to its website: www.simcoecountysliders.ca and email the team. Cunliffe is also available to come out and give a presentation to service clubs or other organizations that may be interested in financially supporting the team.

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