A special opportunity
While a large crowd was watching the Winter Spectacular snowmobile races at the Viking Speedway on Saturday, a smaller group was watching competitors with just as much determination nearby.
Inside the Runestone Community Center, many children and adults had the chance to compete against each other in the Minnesota Special Hockey Jamboree.
The Jamboree was hosted by the Alexandria Muskies, one of 10 Special Hockey teams in Minnesota. Most of the teams are in the Twin Cities area, however Duluth and Moorhead also have teams.
According to Tammy Adams, Muskies coordinator, the opportunity to play on the team is open to anyone of any age who has a mental or physical disability. Currently, the team consists of 16 regular members who range from being active skaters, to those who participate from a sled or chair that is pushed by another person.
During competitions, players are split up to create teams made up of members of several other teams. This ensures that the teams stay balanced and that everyone gets a chance to participate, she said.
Adams moved to the area a few years ago with her husband, Dale, who is now the coach for the Muskies. They became involved in the team after their son, Isaac, joined the team.
"For him it means everything," Tammy said. "He loves it."
At first, she wasn't sure if Isaac would enjoy playing hockey, but he really took to it, she said.
In addition to keeping him active, the program also gives both Isaac and his parents a lot of contact with other people.
"The social aspect for him has been awesome," Tammy said.
Although the Jamboree is an exciting event for the players and families, this year also had a sad note because one of the original Muskies members, Billy Scheffler, was not in attendance. He died last March after being part of the team since it began in 2011.
As a way to honor Billy, who was number 18, the teams and spectators observed 18 seconds of silence before the first game on Saturday.
Billy's mother, Julie was also at the game. She explained that she only watched him play one time because it was something he enjoyed but didn't really want to show off. However, she wanted to be there to honor both Billy and his love for hockey and the team.
"He loved hockey. That was his passion." Julie said. "That's what made him breathe every day."
The season for the Alexandria Muskies lasts from November through the first part of March. The team meets on Sundays at the Runestone Community Center to practice, and also participates in about eight games each year — some at home and some at other locations. Games are also on Sundays.
The Muskies are run entirely with the help of volunteers, including members of several local hockey teams.
"We have a lot of help from the Blizzard team," Tammy added. "The kids love them."
To find out more about the team or to get involved in volunteering, call Tammy Adams at (701) 220-2346 or visit www.mnspecialhockey.org.