KAMLOOPS — Great strides have been made in recent years to make sports all inclusive — sports for everyone, no matter age, gender, or physical capacity and ability. One of those programs in Kamloops is adaptive hockey, preparing for a big provincial tournament next month.
Early Sunday mornings — parents milling about in the hallway outside the dressing room at the rink. Players getting geared up, grabbing their sticks and hitting the ice.
For the families involved with the Junior Blazers Adaptive Hockey program in Kamloops, they don't take it for granted.
"For parents with special needs children, morning times can sometimes be a little bit strenuous for them," said Junior Blazers Coach Ashly Hay. "It's a busy morning and trying to get the kids to the hockey rink at a certain hour is very commendable on their part. They do a fantastic job."
The Junior Blazers have been around since 2012. The program gives kids with special needs an opportunity to get onto the ice and learn Canada's national winter sport.
"This is our second year that we've had two groups of kids. Our first group is ages five to 14, and our second group is 15 to 60 years old," said Hay.
Hay has been coaching in the program since it began and has seen most of her Sunday crew of older players graduate from the younger ranks onto the top team.
"I've been with these guys for quite a while. They're like little brothers to me. They're doing great; they have changed so much in all of their skill, their social development, their emotional development, their learning, their spacial awareness — they've just grown as individuals."
Hay says she can see that growth on and off the ice.
"Don Hay's daughter (Ashley) is cool," said Junior Blazer Centre Taylor Clarke. "She's kind of funny and she makes everyone stop all the time."
These athletes don't get to play too many games, but they have a few big ones coming up. They'll be hosting a ten-team tournament next month, taking on some of the other adaptive hockey programs from across BC.
"It's a one-day tournament at McArthur Island. It's a fantastic event," said Hay. "It's really an eye-opener that these kids can play this game and they belong playing this game. It's a very special day for everybody. There are a lot of moments during the tournament that I catch myself with a little tear in my eye because it's so neat to see the comeraderie with all the kids."
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