At 24, Jordyn Cooper is finally getting the opportunity to participate in her favourite sport after learning about the Woolwich Sun Rays, who played their first hockey game of the season earlier this month.
“I grew up watching it; my brother played since he was a little kid,” said Cooper. “So being able to play hockey now… it’s always been a little dream for me to be able to play something that I was never able to because there weren’t any teams in my area.”
Cooper has cerebral palsy, which adversely affects the development of movement and posture. Growing up in the London-Exeter area, there were no special hockey teams in which Cooper could participate. That’s where the Elmira team comes in.
The Woolwich Sun Rays is a special hockey team for people with developmental delays. Cooper was always a huge fan of hockey – she has a friend who volunteered with the Elmira Sugar Kings, and made sure to visit plenty of their away games.
So she was delighted to hear about her chance to play the sport she was such a fan of watching.
“I heard about them a few seasons ago; I had friends that played with the Woolwich Sun Rays,” said Cooper. “So I came out to watch. At the time, it was too late to register to join. I was watching, and I was so interested; I knew I wanted to play.
“So last season I was finally able to play. It was so fun to be out there with everyone else instead of just watching.”
The Woolwich Sun Rays accept players of nearly all ages, from six to 60. Teams are formed based on skills and ability, not age. Volunteers and coaches help the roster learn and develop at their own pace. Staff also make accommodations to hockey gear based on each player’s needs.
“I actually have a velcro-piece attached to my glove, it’s sewn on, and it attaches on to my elbow pad, which basically helps it stay on,” explained Cooper. “They make special adjustments based on people’s needs.”
The team just wrapped up their first game on November 3 against the Cambridge Blades. The final score was 8-8. Winning or losing is not particularly important to the players in this game, according to team president Julie Jamieson.
“It’s more about the opportunity and the sense of participating in a game that is loved across the country,” she said. “The players are usually really glad that we can use their skills and abilities in a game situation.”
It also does not necessarily operate in the same format as a typical hockey game. There are volunteers out on the ice to help players who may need it. There’s no overtime if a game ends in a tie.
“Sometimes, depending on how the game is played, the ref plays a pretty significant part to make sure things remain quite equal,” added Jamieson.
The team practices once a week on Saturdays at 11 a.m. Cooper noted her skating ability had improved during her time playing hockey with the Sun Rays.
“I’ve improved a lot,” said Cooper. “My skating has become much better since I’ve started. I’m just faster, my balance is better, and I’m able to stop much easier.”
The Woolwich Sun Rays were formed in 2015, beginning about a dozen players, but that number has increased with each season, notes Jamieson.
“We’re so grateful for the support of the community, especially the volunteers and the coaching staff,” said Jamieson. “We’re really grateful that we have such a good roster; they really make all the difference for the players.”
Their next home game will be at the WMC against the Guelph Giants on November 17. For more information visit the Woolwich Sunray’s website.