One Step Sharks providing opportunities for those with intellectual, physical disabilities
The saying “hockey is for everyone” has an emphatic meaning in San Jose these days.
The One Step Sharks program, designed for individuals with intellectual or physical disabilities, came to fruition last fall and has taken off in the Bay Area.
A similar program – One Step Coyotes – is in its second season in Phoenix and both One Step programs are the brain child of Jared Woosley.
“We had started a hockey team at our One Step Beyond San Mateo location (life skills day program for adults with intellectual disabilities) and at the time, we didn’t have a name,” explained Woosley. “We just went out and played. Our good friend Hanna Hanhan at Nazareth Ice Oasis helped us greatly when it came to getting these guys on the ice.
“Our program participants (all 18 and older) were really into it and the parents were very supportive of that. The San Jose Sharks reached out and invited us to skate at their practice facility (Solar4America Ice at San Jose). We all decided to put a motion in place that will grow special hockey by geographically coordinating close NHL franchises together for the purpose of special hockey development. In the future, we hope to see the One Step Sharks play the One Step Coyotes at Sharks and Coyotes home games against each other. I can’t wait for that day.”
“There have been so many highlights during the season that it is hard to pick a place to start,” said Topham. “It’s just great to see the progress our players make each week and the smiles on their faces as they arrive at the rink. They are always so enthusiastic about playing and show a real love for the sport. I am always impressed by their dedication coming from someone who learned the sport later in life. I know that there are numerous challenges along the way to being able to play the sport. One of the highlights has to be the jersey presentation on Dec. 12. For that session, we had (Sharks forward) Evander Kane and (Sharks mascot) S.J. Sharkie come out on the ice to present us with the official One Step Sharks jerseys and socks.
“I can’t thank the Sharks organization enough for the continuation of the program as a whole, but for that day in particular. It was great to see all of our players get so excited to receive the jerseys and meet Evander and Sharkie.”
Topham added that while each player has individual goals for the season, he wants to see the players continue to smile and enjoy learning the game of hockey.
“Our main goal is simply to have our players out there on the ice having fun and spreading the message that hockey is for everyone,” Topham said. “Everyone has already come so far in the few months that we have been skating, and we hope to continue to grow as a team and to promote the culture that hockey is for everyone. We live by this saying at the One Step Sharks and we are so proud to be members of the Sharks organization – an organization that supports this saying through their generosity in the community.
“It was particularly special to have Evander Kane come out to practice since we know that the “Hockey is For Everyone” initiative is something that he is very passionate about. One of our main goals as a team is to disseminate the message that hockey is for everyone and get more people involved in the sport. It truly is the greatest sport, at least we think so, and it has been very therapeutic, not just for the members of the One Step Sharks, but also for me as a coach and countless individuals I have encountered in the hockey world.”
The One Step Sharks is a natural fit for both Topham and Woosley as their day jobs coincide with the individuals on the team. Topham is a board-certified behavior analyst working with individuals diagnosed with autism and Woosley is the music program instructor and special programs developer for One Step Beyond, Inc.
“I think most people don’t try the sport because its intimidating,” said Woosley. “Scary to say the least, especially for someone with an intellectual disability. If more people knew about this fun aspect of the game, which really isn’t the game at all – it’s skating around the rink, all warm in your gear but with that ice-cold breeze on your face. It’s the feel of the stick when it connects with a puck so perfectly that it saucers to the net and banks in with a beautiful ping off the post. It’s enjoying all of that with your friends – with your team. Every single human on earth would love that if they had the opportunity to try.
“Hockey is for everybody, but in some places, it’s not as attainable. It makes me so happy to know that in those places there are people doing something about it. In the Bay Area, there are many, and growing.”
Woosley added that working with the One Step Sharks is truly a rewarding experience.
“Everyone has challenges, some more severe than others,” he said. “It’s important that everyone has the opportunity despite that fact. Hockey is something that my friends at One Step Beyond love to play, and I’m glad that the hockey community in San Jose and the Bay Area have done so much to help.
“Right now, the players range in age from 20-35, and yes, they all get along very well. They encourage each other in the locker room and on the ice. It’s a beautiful thing.”
And getting the support from the NHL’s Sharks has been key in keeping the program sustainable.
“The Sharks have helped tremendously in keeping the team going by providing free ice time, equipment, publicity, and a huge amount of support, both on and off the ice,” Topham said. “We are hugely grateful for the Sharks organization getting involved and it has been an experience of a lifetime for the players who are all huge Sharks fans. Some of our volunteers come through the Jr. Sharks organization and both the San Jose Sharks and San Jose Barracuda have been generous with their time and equipment.
“We have regular sessions at the Solar4America Ice every Wednesday at noon and will continue to develop our hockey skills in advance of any games that may be scheduled. The fact that we have regular ice time, passionate volunteers, and a dedicated group of players already makes the program a success. I can’t thank our volunteers enough for their continued support and coming out every week to help out. Joanne Couling, Thorin Stormo and Sean Ketchum, among others, have been a huge help in on-ice coaching, equipment management, and everything else behind the scenes that goes into making the sessions happen.”
For more information on joining the One Step Sharks, email Chris Topham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Matt Mackinder
(March 19, 2019)