League helps student with autism gain new skills


The American Special Hockey Association was then created for people who have developmental disabilities and is a part of USA Hockey.

Evan Halpop, Staff writer

Many people who play sports are often overlooked because they have a developmental disability. This is often because they do not play at the same level of competition that neuro-typical athletes tend to play at.

Before 2000 there was no competitive league for people with developmental disabilities to play at their own pace. The American Special Hockey Association was then created for people who have developmental disabilities and is a part of USA Hockey.

The organization emphasizes on playing hockey to the ability of the player, and teaching them skills to go further. They have other benefits that go with this program while playing on the team, such as teaching self-reliance, the ability to share and helping build characteristics that would help the players be successful both on and off the ice.

There are currently over 50 teams in over 30 cities across the United States and the league is still growing. The team that I play for as a goalie is the Wisconsin Timber Wolves, based in Madison, Wisconsin. We practice once a week at Madison Ice Arena on the west side of Madison on Sundays from 3:20-4:20 p.m.

What I have gotten out of it is a place to relieve stress that builds up from classes at Madison Area Technical College and from homework. The team also is helping me with social skills, and is the reason I also have many supporters of my photography. Almost everyone on our team has a varying degree of autism, ranging from low functioning to high functioning autism. We have an age range of 10 to 28 for our players, many of whom are in college as well.

Players use this team as a means to socialize, make friends, energize, release anxiety and play hockey. There are games and tournaments throughout the season.

We play in places not many people get to.

We have an annual matchup with the Chicago Tomahawks at the Rockford Metro Center, home of the Rockford Ice Hogs. We played in the Schwann Super Rink for the National Disabled Festival in Blaine, Minn., where the Team USA Women’s hockey team practices for the Olympics. This year the Festival in Dallas, Tex. at the Dr. Pepper Practice Facilities where the NHL team, the Dallas Stars, practices.

There are many opportunities that we have been given because of the support this organization receives nationally. My team is non-profit and all of our coaches are volunteers from the Edgewood High School Hockey Team and the Middleton High School Hockey Team. We also have a great head coach, Hal Bennett, along with assistant coaches Josh Williamson, Lee Skille and Wisconsin hockey coach legend, Vic Levine.

We recently gained the support of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Women’s Hockey Team, who are four-time national champions, and currently are aiming to win their fifth title.

I am very grateful we have the support of so many teams and coaches from around Wisconsin. It has been great seeing the team continue to grow and succeed since it formed in 2008. Since joining the team in 2008 I have helped mentor the others in social skills, and be there to be a friend when they need one to hang out with. I have learned from playing with this team that winning isn’t everything in hockey, the same as in life.

When you don’t win, and you fail, you don’t get frustrated with the situation and give up. You just step back, take a breath, and approach the problem from a different angle and figure out how to overcome it so you can be successful. That is what this team has taught me overall, and has made me the person I am today.