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Volunteers and Participants Find Joy At Try Hockey for Free Event in Columbus

By Greg Bates, 11/13/23, 9:00AM MST

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Columbus hosted sessions for disabled and non-disabled kids

John Haferman is always happy to see kids come through the rink doors, especially on two specific days each year.

Every February and November, rinks in the Columbus, Ohio, area hold Try Hockey for Free events on USA Hockey’s two national Try Hockey for Free days. The latest event was on Nov. 4, when there were a pair of sessions — one for non-disabled kids and one for disabled kids.

It was the perfect time to run the event since the Columbus Ice Hockey Club (CIHC) Learn to Skate program had just completed the previous day.

“It was pretty easy to be able to talk to the rec centers and say, ‘Hey, bring the kids tomorrow. This is a great way for them to get going,’” said Haferman, who is the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department director of hockey operations and executive director of CIHC.

About 60 kids participated in the one-hour youth hockey session that afternoon, Haferman said.

“A few were siblings that weren’t signed up, we let them get on,” Haferman said. “For us, it’s always about if somebody wants to try it, we’re not going to say no.”

Following the event, 21 kids signed up for the Learn to Play program. One-third of those were girls.

“We’re trying to keep that number growing a little bit,” Haferman said. “50 percent would be really cool, but we’ll be close.”

The first Try Hockey for Free session was more like a Learn to Skate class, Haferman said.

“The ones that we had that we’ve been skating with, we kind of divided into three areas,” Haferman said. “One was like kids who could get around the ice and not fall, so a stick in their hand wasn’t going to hinder their progress and that third went down to one end where we had pucks and nets, cones. So we did some tight turns and stick-handling through cones and shooting with pucks.”

Haferman said there were more than 20 volunteers from local hockey teams, ranging from the 19U girls’ team to a 14U team. With ages varying from 13 to 18, the volunteers gave one-on-one guidance to “wall clingers” — skaters that need the support of the boards to stay upright. 

“Almost all of them were not clinging by the end of it,” Haferman said. 

The second session of the day was for sled, blind and special hockey players. There were seven participants for that on-ice class.

“We got two new kids to do sled and one doing blind hockey,” Haferman said.

There were plenty of volunteers to help the first-time disabled players. Some members of the Columbus Blades youth sled hockey team helped, as did three of the Ohio Warriors players, four coaches from the Columbus Blue Jackets Special Hockey and the CIHC Blind Hockey coaches.

The sled players ranged in age from about kindergartners to early teenagers, and they were kept busy during their hour on the ice.

“We got the kids fitted in a sled and their sticks and they got to come out and try pushing themselves around,” Haferman said. “Then the Ohio Warriors guys were pretty much showing them how to turn right, turn left and go forward, stuff like that. It’s pretty much the same kind of thing. They were stick-handling and shooting and passing as well.”

Haferman was pleased the event was a success. The participants, as well as the volunteers, had fun throughout the day. 

“When you talk to our kids about volunteering, they’re like, ‘Umm, I’m not sure I want to do this,’” Haferman said. “It’s funny how the kids that actually volunteer to help sometimes get more out of it than the kid who they’re helping. It’s really cool, because the kid and the family’s really happy they got to learn how to skate.”

The day after the event, the CIHC held a blind hockey practice, and a few of the volunteers were recognized for their help the day before. 

“We had a couple of kids at the rink going, ‘Hey, you were the one that helped us yesterday,’” Haferman said. “That tends to give more credence as to why we ask them to volunteer. And, of course, the next time we do it we usually get a little bit more, ‘Yeah, I definitely want to do that kind of stuff.’”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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