By Barb Arland-Fye
My son Patrick and I sat in the play-by-play booth watching Quad City Sled Hockey players, including his brother Colin, playing “Duck, Duck, Goose” and other games to practice their turning skills. One of Colin’s favorite coaches, Anita, “tagged” him and he propelled his sled faster than we have ever seen him move it!
Colin, in turn, tagged another player but inexplicably stopped, so he and the other player coasted around the circle side by side. Another coach, Ken, quipped, “I think it’s going to be a photo finish.” Then Ken skated around the circle, tagging all 10 players, creating a scene of hilarious chaos.
Welcome to the world of Sled Hockey, an inclusive sport for children and adults with and without a disability. Players use tubular-framed sleds and two hockey sticks with blades on one end and toe-picks on the other to grip the ice for turning and moving. If they want additional assistance, they have “buddies,” who skate behind and push their sleds.
Like several other players, Colin has participated in Sled Hockey from its start more than 20 years ago. Coaches Aaron, Anita, Greg and Ken have participated nearly as long. Their dedication warms my heart as I sit in the chilly bleachers with Patrick, a recreational hockey player who occasionally assists on the ice.
Coach Aaron got involved in Sled Hockey through a co-worker whose son played Sled Hockey and mentioned the need for helpers. Aaron played in a hockey league with Anita, Greg and Ken and invited them to join him. “They want to share their knowledge and their love for the game,” Patrick explained as he provided me with a play-by-play explanation of the games the coaches use to teach skills.
“Colin, turn around. You’re going the wrong way,” Patrick interrupts our conversation to give guidance to his older brother who is thrilled to see his whole family at the rink. (My husband Steve was nearby, handling equipment management duties.) The presence of all four Fyes does not happen every Sunday during Sled Hockey season.
I attended Sled Hockey faithfully each Sunday for years unless I had another commitment. More recently, the commitments provided a convenient excuse to stay away. Truthfully, I lost interest in watching and dreaded the chilly conditions sitting in the bleachers.
At the start of the new season, I felt that familiar nudge from my heavenly Father to make Sled Hockey a priority. Last Sunday, God helped me to see what I have been missing — the players, their loved ones and the coaches who have become a family of sorts. Sandy, the mother of a player named Tom, greeted me warmly and asked, “Are you still editing?”
When I introduced myself to coach Ken, he seemed puzzled. Yes, I know you are Colin’s mom, the look on Ken’s face said. I saw Joe, the man who spearheaded Quad City Sled Hockey, but didn’t see Dick, the regular equipment manager and wondered if he was OK.
Coach Aaron knows his players’ talents, skills and challenges and makes sure that each has the opportunity to experience the joy of the game. “Colin doesn’t like to get bumped so he avoids getting into the middle of the action,” I told Aaron. That is not news to Aaron. He knows that Colin likes to move up and down the ice, which allows him the joy of fielding from a distance.
Colin propels his sled with hockey sticks that Patrick purchased for him as a Christmas gift. “He loves them,” Patrick said. “To me, that’s invaluable.” Almost as invaluable? The gratitude of both sons that we were together for Sled Hockey and dinner afterwards. Colin ended our mealtime prayer thanking God “that we are together as a family.”
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)