Canada’s most loved sport will be enjoyed by a larger demographic in Woolwich soon, with the start of the Woolwich Sun Rays, a hockey team that gives those with developmental challenges a chance to play.
For Julie Jamieson, the new venture hits close to home.
“I had a brother with Down syndrome,” Jamieson said. “He passed in 2011 at age 48 and was also a great lover of sport, especially hockey. Although he would pay ball hockey and road hockey he never had the opportunity for ice hockey or to join a team. It was always something in the back of my mind I thought it would be nice if there was a way people like him could play.”
In 2013 the Special Hockey International organization hosted its annual tournament in Kitchener. She volunteered to help with the event and host the Orangeville Wolves. From that experience she said she came away with two thoughts about Woolwich.
“It has a really robust and vibrant community assisted living association,” Jamieson said. “And secondly it’s a crazy hockey town. I thought that was a very good combination. I thought there should be a way those can be combined and a way for a special hockey team to be formed in Woolwich Township.”
The team’s open to players from six years and up. It’s a collaboration of Woolwich Minor Hockey, Woolwich Township, Elmira District Community Living, and Crime Stoppers.
She said thanks to their support the “team of dreams” is coming to life.
Diane Bauman MacLachlan said a huge difference between the Woolwich Sun Rays, named after Jamieson’s brother Ray, and Woolwich Minor Hockey is that this team won’t be divided into age categories.
“Special hockey is divided into their ability level,” Bauman MacLachlan said. “Some joining our group will be able to get going on their skates and actually skate. There are a few, however, it will take years for them to be a skater.”
Bauman MacLachlan said they progress at their own pace at their own abilities. The goal is to give them an inclusive fun environment for them to learn and gain new skills.
The team will start in the fall with weekly practice games, where they’ll play against each other until they have enough to divide into teams. Interested parents and players will be able to sign up at the WMC next month.
“When I contacted Woolwich Minor Hockey, I spoke with (president) Rob Waters in January and it was actually his idea, he said look we have a great opportunity, Crime Stoppers has a community day in Elmira,” Jamieson said. “He said this is the perfect feature that we can include on that day. Rob Waters has really been integral in terms of talking with others and there are some good opportunities in terms of getting a pool of resources just in Woolwich Minor Hockey alone.”
Signup for the team will be at the Crime Stoppers “Putting Crime In The Penalty Box” event on April 12. The Kitchener Ice Pirates, a special hockey team, will put on an exhibition game at 1 p.m. to show people what a special hockey game looks like.
Constable Darryl Paquette coordinates Crime Stoppers events in the region and says they started the Putting Crime in The Penalty Box event last year after the WMC was vandalized.
“Myself and other police officers who’ve played higher level hockey are going to run a skills camp like we did last year,” Paquette said. “It was brought to our attention that they were looking at starting a special hockey team. It just kind of took off from there.”
He said they have a set of 15 jerseys ready for the team which were made especially for them and donated free of charge.
“For me personally, being a former hockey player, it’s just awesome that we can get everybody to play hockey,” Paquette said. “And everyone that volunteers on our Crime Stoppers board is excited about it. It’s a good story, just to be part of something and help establish something new.”
He added they’re hoping to help increase registration numbers by partnering the Crime Stoppers event with the Sun Rays team registration, and special hockey exhibition game.
Bauman MacLachlan said one of the aspirations for the team is to participate in the international special hockey tournament.
“It starts and ends with special hockey international,” she said. “When people from North America and England came for three days and used the facilities there were thousands of players there that day. Our dream is for our group to gain enough players so that they can travel to the annual special hockey tournaments. We’re going big.”
Jamieson added, “The other hope is for Woolwich to be a place that demonstrates diversity and inclusion, such that all of its members, regardless of who they are or their skill level can participate in a well loved sport and activity that their friends, their brother and sisters, their neighbours are partaking in.”