'It's tremendous:' new team for players with developmental disabilities is a hit
Highlanders is the only team for players with developmental disabilities in the Maritimes
Ian Readey has loved hockey for as long as he can remember, but there was one thing that bugged him about it.
"I was sick of having to travel very long distances to play Canada's game."
Readey, who has autism, spent years travelling to Ontario and the United States to skate with teams for players with developmental disabilities. Four years ago, he decided to ask Hockey Nova Scotia to start a program at home.
It took some time to recruit coaches, sponsors and line up insurance. Finally, this fall, his dream became a reality as the Highlanders hockey team hit the ice.
"We are the newest Canadian member of Special Hockey International," Readey said proudly during an event on Wednesday.
All skill levels welcome
Special Olympics criteria are used to determine eligibility, but the team includes players ranging from kids to adults, some of whom have never been on skates before.
"I think it's a really good opportunity to get out there and keep pushing ourselves," said player Matthew Tench.
The team started practising in the fall, and fill their ice time with drills and a friendly scrimmage.
The score doesn't matter — they're just there for the love of the game.
Hockey Nova Scotia executive director Darren Cossar said the program has been a huge success. So far, there's more than two dozen players signed up.
"Without Ian coming through our door, it really wasn't on our radar," he said. "It's tremendous. To see the expression on the kids' faces, and their parents — to see their kids experiencing something that they wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity."
The goal now is for the program to grow. The Highlanders would love to play other teams, and they've had a few friendly matches with minor hockey teams.
Cossar says they're trying to find volunteers to start up similar programs in other Nova Scotia communities.
"It's our national game, and we truly believe that every child should have the ability to participate at whatever skill set or level they choose."