Ramping up to their second season, the Woolwich Sun Rays are looking to welcome more players and volunteers to the team.
Founder Julie Jamieson says they finished their inaugural season with a dozen players and they should all be returning, with two or three new faces expected to hit the ice.
Last season the special hockey team had six games and also played in a tournament in Kitchener.
“It went really well. We were well supported by the community, by businesses in the community, by families, and players and guardians,” Jamieson said.
She says they have a healthy roster of volunteers and most are returning, but it would be nice to have a few more for when people have to miss a weekend.
Volunteer Denise Kamo worked with special needs kids before she retired. Helping with the Sun Rays has been a nice transition for her.
“It was just a continuation and I could stay in touch with them. Actually one of my students signed up so I got to see him last year every week and stay in touch with his family,” Kamo said.
She says as long as the team exists she plans to be there helping the players on and off the ice.
For those considering if volunteering with the team would be a good fit for them she says they don’t have to have a lot of background with special needs kids. All they need is an interest in understanding them and supporting them, along with a positive attitude.
“I think you’ll learn about kids with special needs and how they are pretty normal. They like to have fun, they like to learn new skills, they’re very lovely to be around and to get to know their families is terrific too. It’s a very positive thing to do. It’ll put a smile on your face, it really will. I guarantee it,” Kamo said.
She notes the team is open to players with a wide range of physical and developmental delays. One player wasn’t able to get on the ice last season because he had some challenges with his helmet but he was able to get suited up and sit on the bench. Everyone knew him and interacted with him and all that the stimulation was a positive experience for him.
“They’re all individual. They all have individual needs but they’re all very happy to be there. They’re very excited to be there. You get to know them, they get to know you, you build up some nice bonds and there’s some fun interactions,” Kamo said.
She says the team is comprised of a committed group of parents and Jamieson makes a point to listen to the needs of the team and reflects what’s best for the players.
Sandra Mikjaniec’s daughter Taryn played in Cambridge with two different teams for six years before joining the Sun Rays last season.
“We wanted to try one here and it is a lot handier and it’s really nice to play with other athletes that she knows from the community or from ARC,” Mikjaniec said.
The Sun Rays played Taryn’s former team twice last year. She enjoyed seeing her old teammates again.
“She says she gets traded. She says she’s been traded now three times,” Mikjaniec says with a laugh.
Taryn likes to stay near the boards and practice her skating. She goes from bench to bench chatting with the players. She especially enjoyed meeting the Kitchener Rangers, and had no qualms about asking them for autographs and chatting with them. The social aspect is an important part of the team for many of them.
“For a volunteer, I think you learn as much from them as they do from the volunteer or coach. They all have different personalities, most of them are very social and have a sense of humor. You get to see all those things, which a lot of people I don’t think realize until they are working with them,” Mikjaniec said.
Kerri Stoermer’s 10-year-old son Joshua will be returning to the Sun Rays for his second season this fall. She says he loves hockey and can tell you statistics on every team, but he wasn’t able to play hockey. This was the perfect option for him.
“The volunteers are fantastic, the ratio is fantastic. I’ve never seen a better ratio. There’s almost more volunteers than kids. The kids that do need more help they get it. The kids that are more independent are able to do more on their own. They still get assistance and training and coaching. It’s geared to where everyone’s level is,” Stoermer said.
She notes it’s also affordable and players can try two sessions for free to see if they like it. Joshua now can get out on the ice once a week to play the game and learn in a way he never had the chance to before. Needless to say, he’s looking forward to the start of hockey season, which is quickly approaching.
“He’s really improved a lot. He loves the team, he loves the coaches. He went from not being able to skate at all to being able to skate across the ice on his own. It’s amazing to see how much improvement he made,” Stoermer said.
Registration for the Woolwich Sun Rays goes until Aug. 31. Interested volunteers or players can find information at www.woolwichminorhockey.ca or contact Julie Jamieson at 519-590-3555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.