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With the Creation of an Adaptive Program, the Dallas Stars Now Have Hockey Options for Everyone

By Greg Bates, 03/04/24, 11:30AM MST


The Stars created an adaptive program this past September after already having warrior and sled hockey programs

Group Picture of the adaptive hockey on-ice event. They are wearing Victory Green Dallas Stars jerseys and black and orange jerseys as they pose for a picture on the ice.

The Dallas Stars want every person in the Dallas area to try hockey regardless of their age or physical abilities.

Seeing the successes of other NHL franchises with adaptive offerings, the Stars organization launched its own program, Dallas Stars Adaptive Sports, in September of last year.

Adaptive is the third disabled hockey discipline that the Stars have embarked on, as they already had warrior and sled hockey programs in place. Implementing an adaptive program was the obvious next step.

“This has been a void for the Stars as an organization for a long time,” said Andy Gibson, who runs Dallas Stars Adaptive Sports, which is a nonprofit organization. “There’s not been a provision for people in the disabled space. I know in the past, there has been some level of support for sled hockey and then blind, deaf, hard of hearing. But COVID came and funding for a lot of these things kind of dried up. Everything was just kind of thrown on its head, and all that stopped.”

Gibson has a personal tie to the program, as his 3-year-old son, William, was born with Down syndrome. 

“It’s been an especially focused thing for me to see, what can we do to provide more opportunities for kids and adults of all abilities,” he said. “We feel like this adaptive sports framework is a great approach from the Dallas Stars perspective to encapsulate the offers, whether it’s warrior, sled, adaptive/special hockey.”

Gibson noted that the St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators have great infrastructure set up within their disabled hockey programs. The Stars pulled the best ideas from those franchises to form their organization and tried to apply a new model that encapsulates everything under one umbrella.

The Stars recently wrapped up a five-week special hockey rookies program in January. Over 30 special hockey athletes registered for the introductory learn-to-play classes, with 25 of them graduating from the program on Feb. 3. 

“That program is specifically designed for athletes with emotional, physical, developmental disabilities,” Gibson said. “Whether it’s autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, we have athletes that range the full spectrum. We wanted to make sure that we provided a catch-all for anyone that wanted to try ice hockey and be involved with it.”

One week after the adaptive athletes graduated from the rookies program, 20 of those same players were back at the Children’s Health StarCenter - Farmers Branch rink for more on-ice instruction through an academy program.

“Week to week, people have things that come up, but we’re really encouraged to see so many people just keeping it going,” said Gibson, who doubles as the general manager at the rink in Farmers Branch. “We’ve heard so many success stories from parents sharing their child has found a newfound confidence and they’re really looking forward to participating in hockey.”

Gibson added that a lot of parents have told him that the Stars’ program is the only one they’ve found in the area that offers their kids a chance to play sports. 

A tight-knit community has been built in a short amount of time since the Stars started the adaptive program, and Gibson has seen how much it means to the participants.

“A lot of our families last week at graduation were in tears, they were excited, they’re so thankful,” he said. “I think they feel like their child is in good hands for being inclusive and having opportunities available to them.”

The Stars have a well-established warrior hockey program consisting of over 200 men and women who are injured or disabled U.S. military veterans from the Dallas metroplex. The warrior program has numerous teams that compete around the country in tournaments.

The Stars also have a developmental sled team made up mostly of youth players. The goal is to form a competitive team to represent the franchise in events.

A lofty goal for the adaptive program — hopefully for next season — is to also form at least one team that can practice and compete.

“One of our long-term goals is to have multiple teams at each of those divisions,” Gibson said. “Right now with warrior, we have about seven teams playing recreationally, and they make up a handful that go and play in different travel tournaments.”

Since adaptive is a new discipline for the Stars, organizing more than one team could be a challenge. But Gibson is encouraged by the turnout for the program in its first few months.

“If we continue at this rate, ideally, our long-term goal is to facilitate a league-based opportunity for adaptive athletes to participate in, comparable to our recreational programs,” Gibson said. “So, have four to five teams maybe across the different rinks across Dallas. We’re looking at close to 100 athletes maybe in the next year or two.” 

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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