skip navigation

USA Hockey Foundation Grant Helps West Michigan Special Hockey Association Grow

By Greg Bates - Special to, 09/17/14, 1:00PM MDT


Jean Laxton is hoping the West Michigan Special Hockey Association (WMSHA) continues to grow.

It’s on the right track, and a $2,000 grant from The USA Hockey Foundation will go a long way toward the association reaching its goals.

Laxton founded the WMSHA two years ago in Grand Rapids, Mich. There was some open ice time at the Patterson Ice Arena, so she had an idea to try to get children and young adults with developmental disabilities involved in hockey.

“This was something that was always near and dear to my heart,” said Laxton, who is the general manager of the Grand Rapids Amateur Hockey Association (GRAHA), the parent organization for the WMSHA. “My degree prior to getting into hockey as a volunteer over 20 years ago was in psychology and human services, so I’ve always had a soft spot for kids with disabilities, and I worked in a group home for disabled adults for three years.”

Laxton has really gotten the program going with the assistance of Charlie Keider, who recently moved to Grand Rapids and started helping in May. Keider learned a great deal about running a special needs hockey organization from his time working with the Detroit MORC Stars, a program that is very similar to WMSHA.

The mission of WMSHA is to offer an amateur level hockey program for children and young adults with Down syndrome, autism or any other developmental disability. WMSHA is open to any player over the age of 5, male or female, who is physically able to play but would be unable to participate in any other organized program due to a developmental disability.

The WMSHA is in its early stages of existence and is drafting its own bylaws to become a stand-alone organization from GRAHA. Since the WMSHA is working on getting approved as a non-profit, the organizers don’t want the athletes to be responsible for paying for ice time at the Patterson Ice Arena or for equipment. Donations and grants have become a critical means to keep the organization going in the right direction. Along with the $2,000 from The USA Hockey Foundation, the WMSHA received a OneGoal grant from the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association.

“Equipment and ice time always seems to add up,” Keider said. “To be able to offer that to parents as a freebie basically that we’re giving you ice time, we’re giving you equipment is big. … $2,000 in some people’s minds isn’t a lot, but it goes a long way for us.”

With The USA Hockey Foundation grant money, the WMSHA will be able to pay the applications fees involved with getting non-profit status and buy equipment, including helmets, cones and possibly jerseys. Laxton has purchased a number of helmets to keep the players safe and protected on the ice. Also, the organization bought some walkers as skate aids because a lot of players aren’t able to skate freely.

The WMSHA has a good relationship with the Patterson Ice Arena, so the players in the WMSHA are able to use the rink’s skates for free during practice.

“It’s very important,” Laxton said about the grant money. “Every little bit helps. We’re appreciative of anything that we can get to assist to be able to continue to be able to put this on for the kids.”

Ready for the Season

The new season for the WMSHA gets under way Sept. 24, and the athletes will get an hour of ice time once per week.

In the past, the age of players has ranged from 4 to 27. Laxton is expecting a similar pattern this season. She is hoping around a dozen players will participate in the program.

“We have a wide range of abilities, some that can skate and some that are really struggling to even get around on the walker, but we have to start somewhere,” Laxton said. “We’re happy to take anybody that walks in.”

Keider will be running the on-ice instruction and has other volunteer coaches helping out. However, he’d also like player assistants who can help each skater understand what the coaches are teaching.

If practices go well, Keider would like to play some games and eventually have the team compete in tournaments.

“The goal is to make it a full team and then possibly its own league where we have a West Michigan Special Hockey League, and it’s not just one team, it’s multiple leagues for the west Michigan region,” Keider said. “I think that’s a reasonable goal.”

The team is nicknamed the Patriots, and the players are excited to get on the ice. Keider spoke with a player in the offseason who is 18 years old and aged out of the traditional youth organizations. However, he’ll get a shot to play with the Patriots.

“His first comment to me was, ‘Maybe we can get practice jerseys with our logo on it,’” Keider said. “He’s really excited to have his own team.”

That wouldn’t be possible without grants.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

Recent News

Michigan Womens's Ice Hockey Team - by Nolan Bona
  • The Game Lives On

  • By Clara Boudette 03/13/2024, 10:15am MDT
  • The University of Michigan Women’s Ice Hockey Team Embraces Domestic & Global Opportunities American College Hockey Association Provides
  • Read More
The Lady Duck "We Play Her Way" program smiles for a photograph on the ice.
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.

Donate Now Button

Most Popular Articles

Q&A with Bret Hedican

By The USA Hockey Foundation 02/23/2018, 7:15am MST

Olympian discusses hockey and his family

Donor Spotlight: The Rothsteins

By USA Hockey 04/26/2019, 12:00pm MDT

Tom & Molly give back to the game they love with the USA Hockey Foundation

Q-and-A with John Vanbiesbrouck

By USA Hockey 07/30/2018, 3:30pm MDT

Get to know USA Hockey's new assistant executive director for hockey operations