Special needs hockey stars take in Ducks’ Top Flight Program
Back on Aug. 2, members of the Anaheim Ducks staff, THE RINKS, Fox Sports and the Albert Pujols Foundation came together to offer Southern California’s special needs community a unique introduction to the Anaheim Ducks’ Top Flight Program at The Rinks-Anaheim ICE.
The program which encompasses street hockey, ice hockey and Learn to Skate classes, gives individuals with special needs the opportunity to play the sport of hockey in an environment they are comfortable in. After receiving the suggestions from families within the community, the Top Flight program was established as a street hockey league hosted at The Rinks-Huntington Beach Inline back in 2013.
The first season made an immediate impact in the community as over 40 special needs players got together for the inaugural season.
“Since the start, our players have embraced the sport of hockey and developed a passion for the game,” said THE RINKS marketing coordinator Tanner Privia. “Five years later, that passion has not faltered. The same kids that have been with us since Day 1 are still playing. It has been truly amazing to see not only the program, but the players develop.”
As time went on, many of those same players got the hang of street hockey and wanted to challenge themselves more. They would look out at favorite hockey players on the ice and wanted to be just like them.
“It started with one player, then another player started asking, then another, and it got the point where we had to do something about it,” said Privia.
In response to the growing demand, THE RINKS expanded the Top Flight program to The Rinks-Lakewood ICE and introduced ice hockey and Special Olympics Learn to Skate in 2017.
“It got to the point that we had to do it,” Privia said. “I do not think they would have left us alone if we did not, but we are sure glad that they did.
Today, the ice hockey program has seen over 20 participants registered in the program and playing on almost a weekly basis.
Even though all three programs have been well-established for over a year, THE RINKS have never been able to give these players a time to do all three at once.
“While the demand for an event to host all three aspects of our program has been there, we did not have the volunteer base to help run all three programs in a short time,” said THE RINKS marketing director Jesse Chatfield.
That was until members of the Anaheim Ducks staff, Fox Sports, and the Albert Pujols Foundation wanted to come out and help.
With 50 members of the special needs community wanting to try hockey, over 40 volunteers from the three companies made sure that it was possible. The day started with a 30-minute street hockey clinic for all the players to get a feel for the sport and to learn the fundamentals. Afterwards, all the participants and volunteers moved inside and got on the ice for more fun. While the event made a meaningful impact in the community, the volunteers also got to see firsthand the impact the program has on themselves.
“I think I had more fun than some of the participants,” said volunteer Ryan Herrman. “To see the absolute thrill that these kids had throughout the day, whether they were playing street hockey, getting dressed in the locker rooms, or finally touching the ice for the very first time – just an amazing experience. Their joy and their excitement was contagious and definitely spread to all the volunteers.”
For more information on the Anaheim Ducks Top Flight program or if you are interested in becoming a volunteer, visit www.anaheimducks.com/topflight.
— THE RINKS Staff
(Sept. 21, 2018)