Mustangs, Ice Wizards welcome developmentally-disabled athletes
There’s a new hockey team in Colorado for people with developmental disabilities.
The Denver Mustangs held their first practice Nov. 19, only a few weeks after the team’s formation, and played in an American Special Hockey Association (ASHA) tournament in California in January.
Team organizers want to get the word out that they’re looking for more players.
“It usually takes about six months to organize a team for players with developmental disabilities, but we had our jerseys and started practicing in six weeks,” said Mary Lederman, ASHA’s Western Regional representative, who started and runs the six-player Mustangs team along with her husband, Don.
JoAnn Stephenson is the team’s manager and there are six volunteer coaches.
Fundraising and seed money provided by ASHA have gotten the Mustangs off the ground.
Thanks to those funds, they have equipment and ice time through March.
“We hope families will contact us,” Stephenson said. “The only cost for players is an annual registration fee for USA Hockey ($44). We’ll work with the players on their hockey skills, provide most of their equipment and ice time.”
The Mustangs were born out of necessity. A good necessity. There are a growing number of people with developmental disabilities who are playing hockey in Colorado and another team was needed so families didn’t have to drive long distances to rinks.
Two rinks are home to the Mustangs. They’re skating at the Family Sports Center in Centennial – where the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche hold practice sessions – and the Magness Arena at the University of Denver.
“We hope to have just one home next season,” Stephenson said. “Either the Family Sports Center or the university would be great.”
The other USA Hockey- and Colorado Amateur Hockey Association-sanctioned (CAHA) hockey team for developmentally-disabled players in the state is the Colorado Ice Wizards. That team was formed in 2010.
Stephenson, her husband, Jim, and Tom Marshall started the Ice Wizards. Marshall currently is team president.
Why are the Lederman and Stephenson families so involved in hockey for people with developmental disabilities?
The answer is family.
Donnie Lederman, 35, is autistic. He’s been playing hockey since 1999.
“The minute Donnie started playing, he knew this was something he wanted to do,” his mother said. “There’s no doubt hockey has helped him as a person.”
Hockey is so important to the Lederman family that they were willing to make a three-hour round-trip drive to Ice Wizards practices before the Mustangs were formed.
Sara Stephenson, 34, who has Down Syndrome, started playing hockey in 1996. She’s a goalie.
“Sara couldn’t skate when she first played, but she loved hockey,” her mother said. “What’s great about these teams is we emphasize the team aspect. Besides practicing and playing, each team gets together for events off the ice.”
Doris Donley, CAHA’s vice president for adaptive hockey, couldn’t be happier about the formation of the Mustangs.
“USA Hockey and CAHA are thrilled to welcome the Mustangs to our hockey family,” she said. “Colorado is a hockey state and now these players have a place to play.”
Donley said the Mustangs’ goals are similar to CAHA’s goals when it comes to adaptive hockey.
“CAHA’s goals are to provide people with physical and developmental disabilities the opportunity to play hockey in an environment adapted to their level of ability while promoting the development of sportsmanship, team spirit, responsibility, confidence and pride,” she said.
Families interested in learning more about the Mustangs can contact Stephenson via email at Jstephe887@q.com or by phone at 720-810-2386.
For information about the Ice Wizards, visit www.icewizardshockey.org.
— Steve Stein