This year Haily De Corte, a player on the Woolwich Sun Rays hockey team, has a goal.
“I want to try and get a goal in the net this year, but I get intimidated sometimes when there’s a lot of people coming towards the net,” she said, adding she’ll have to push herself even further out of her comfort zone to play offensive, even when she is intimidated by her opponents.
De Corte says she hadn’t really thought of playing hockey before, but was introduced to the Sun Rays by her dad. Now, she’s glad she gave it a shot.
“It’s fun. I get to meet new people and everyone on the team is nice. Our coach is nice. All the parents that come to our games are nice, everyone on the team is pretty friendly,” she said. “They listen to what we have to say, they always ask us how our weekend was or what we have been up to and, yeah, everyone’s really nice.”
This Sunday, although De Corte will be visiting family in the US, her teammates will represent Woolwich as they host the Cambridge Ice Hounds at the WMC in Elmira. The team is inviting everyone to come watch the action, which gets underway at 1 p.m.
Free popcorn and beverages will be provided by Elmira District Community Living, which is celebrating its 60th year.
The Woolwich Sun Rays are a member of Special Hockey International. It’s a safe place for people with developmental disabilities to play the game.
“It really came out of noticing sort of a space in the Woolwich community for special needs hockey. And we worked with the then president of Woolwich Minor Hockey, Rob Waters, who was quite amenable and welcoming to the idea and he was supportive of getting something started,” said Julie Jamieson, president of the team.
“My history is that I have had an adult brother, who passed in 2011. He lived with Down syndrome. And he was a passionate sportsman. He never was able to play on a team but he was pretty enthusiastic about any sport: baseball, hockey, wrestling, of course, and so a real keen interest, but there was never really a place for him to belong to a team,” she said.
Jamieson says around 2013, Kitchener hosted a local special hockey tournament.
“So I learned a little more then about the fact that teams really do exist in the area around us. And I thought, ‘well, maybe there’s a way that Woolwich has space for something like that,’ and it turns out we did.”
The Sun Rays are named for her brother, Raymond.
The Woolwich Sun Rays provide a place where the developmentally challenged can achieve their own goals at their own pace, says Jamieson. “When mainstream hockey doesn’t fit, then there’s special hockey.”
The team is open to anyone with developmental disabilities, male and female, ages six and up. Players do not need to have hockey skills. With dedicated and compassionate volunteers and coaches, the players learn skills like how to skate, hold a stick, handle a puck, make a pass, take a shot and make a save. They learn at their own pace and meet their own goals. Jamieson says that during a game, all players on both teams help and support each other.
This year there are 17 players on the team, and they range in age from 7 to 53, said Amber Carr, the team’s assistant coach.
Volunteers are always needed on or off the ice either helping with tasks like practice, passing out snacks, or helping with off-ice social events.
Carr says she’s been helping with special hockey for the better part of the last 12 years.
“I started in Hanover. I have a special needs sister. My dad started up a team in 2008 in Hanover, and then I started coaching there. And then when I moved away from home, I moved to Palmerston and then I went over to Elmira,” she said.
“It’s so rewarding to see the players, how much they love getting out. It’s our Canadian sport, right? And they love it and I love watching them get involved in the community and playing hockey. I played hockey my whole life.”
De Corte encourages everyone to take in Sunday’s game.
“People should come and watch the Sun Rays just so they can get to know who we are and get to know us and support us and be there to cheer us on so we have the motivation to push ourselves,” she said.