Years ago, Bella Marshall, daughter of Ice Wizard‘s head coach Tom Marshall, became interested in hockey.
She wanted to be out there on the ice with the rest of the gang. The problem was that Bella has been diagnosed with Down Syndrome and most hockey leagues are not always accommodating to her needs and skill level.
Instead of giving up, Tom Marshall and a few other parents of special needs children started a hockey team designed for those with special needs.
“We saw a need for special hockey to grow in Colorado,” says Marshall.
They call themselves the Ice Wizards, although their official name is Rocky Mountain Special Hockey Inc.
The Ice Wizards are a special hockey team for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
This group teaches all the skills needed to play hockey in a league at the level and pace of the participant.
The difference between special hockey and other leagues are the modified rules and no slap shots or checking. The Ice Wizards stress that everyone should be having fun and that it isn’t about competing.
On the day I visited the Ice Wizard’s summer ending scrimmage, a young boy made his way out onto the ice by scooting on his bottom. He was excited to be on the ice but not ready to try skating on his feet.
Coaches and more advanced teammates helped him get to a safe end of the rink to begin practicing his skating with the use of a PVC pusher, chairs, and holding onto another person.
Each member of this league began in a similar way. Some parents remarked how their hockey player joined with a ton of excitement even when they were afraid to put on the gear or even touch the ice.
Coaches are patient with each player. “We are not a therapy organization. We are a recreational organization. I have found, generally, with most of our players a smile goes a long way with them, a gentle voice, and a lot of encouragement.” says Marshall when discussing the methods of teaching players to try new things.
In a small room overlooking the rink sat the parents of the players. Each of them said they were impressed by the patience and enthusiasm shown by all the coaches. “They are great, some of the most amazing people you will ever meet,” says Dan Vela, hockey dad and former volunteer Ice Wizards coach.
Since there are only a few other special needs teams in the area, most of the Ice Wizards games are played with teams from regular leagues. With is an important word, as the two teams mix, split again into two teams, and play.
These mixed teams allow hockey players from traditional leagues to learn how to play alongside the Ice Wizards players and for the Ice Wizards to get to play a sport they are passionate about.
Marshall and the other coaches believe that everyone of all abilities should have a chance to play hockey and dedicate their time to see that happen. The Ice Wizards is an all-volunteer organization.
Hockey parents could not say enough about the difference they have seen in their children, commenting on confidence, teamwork skills, muscle development, and a desire to try something new.
Parent Kathleen Georgen said, “It was really the first thing he ever did. He was always leery of being in a group or doing things with others. He was kinda nervous but he decided to give it a try.” Georgen’s son’s interest in hockey means they never miss anything hockey. It has impacted their lives so much that the entire family, including grandma and grandpa, show up for practices and games. “It brought a community to him that he didn’t have.”
The Ice Wizards serve the Northern Colorado area, including Longmont. They practice in Lafayette. Parents and coaches invite anyone interested to stop by to watch the team practice or to just sign up.