Wouldn’t you agree that hockey is a physically demanding sport? It requires speed, skill, agility and lots of coordination. It’s not necessarily the first sport that comes to mind when considering an activity for children with special needs. Well, leave it to a mother of a child with special needs to turn ‘common wisdom,’ on its head.
In 2002, the NJ Dare Devils was created by a mom searching for a physical activity for her child with autism. According to their website, “… the New Jersey Dare Devils provide opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities to participate in the sport of ice hockey in a specially-adapted learning environment. The Dare Devils are comprised of over 50 developmentally disabled players (ages 5-adult) across a wide range of abilities — from advanced to learn-to-skate — who participate in a brand of the sport known as ‘Special Hockey.’”
Every Saturday, between September and April, players come together on the ice to practice, learn new skills and get cheered on at the Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange. There are approximately ten games each season and players can also take part in hockey tournaments, both at home and away. Clearly, a major key to keeping this league successful and fun is the coaching staff.
The league has ten adult coaches and around sixty junior/student coaches who volunteer to teach the players the game. And Barista Kids recently learned that Montclair’s own, Glenfield Middle School eighth grader Jacob Levy, just won Junior Coach of the Year. Congratulations Jacob!
Jacob, who has been a hockey player since he was a young boy, started working with the league as part of his Bar Mitzvah project. He enjoyed the experience so much, though, that he has stayed on with no plans to leave in the near future. Jacob had this to say during his acceptance speech, “I’ve learned so much and had a great time. I mainly worked with two kids. One was a girl who couldn’t talk. She may not have uttered a single word, but her laughter beautifully communicated joy and happiness when she was on the ice. The second player was my age, but about half my height. And I’m not exactly the tallest 13-year-old. This boy was determined. He worked hard at every drill. He may have had to look up at me when we spoke, but in truth, I looked up to him and his perseverance. Working with these two players has given me experiences I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Jacob’s mother, Deb Levy, is thrilled that Jacob has found this amazing league. She says, “It’s great to see Jacob connect with kids who have special needs even off the ice. And not that he wasn’t before, but now you can really see his gentleness and patience. This experience means so much for him. It makes him feel really good.”
If you would like to lend your support, the league will be hosting its 3rd annual Bruce Giger Memorial Golf Tournament on June 3. Attendees can play golf or simply attend the cocktail party. Sponsorships are also available.
(Photo: Frank Ingram)