How successful was the Culver Special Needs Hockey Festival conducted April 9-10?
Successful enough that the founder of the Indy Twisters special needs hockey program, Steve Tofaute, would like to see it expand so more teams could take advantage of the experience.
Tofaute, who brought two teams from Indianapolis each of the festival’s first three years, believes Culver has the ideal combination of location and student volunteers to run a larger tournament.
You’ll never find a better group of kids. It’s a testament to what the school does.
“You’ll never find a better group of kids,” he said of the student volunteers from the CMA and CGA hockey teams. “It’s a testament to what the school does. What they do for the players and the parents – they are just ecstatic to come here.”
Along with the Twisters, the Black Swamp Ice Frogs from Bowling Green, Ohio, and the MORC Stars from Livonia, Mich., attended this year’s event. Normally conducted earlier in the season, the tournament had to be pushed back simply because the Culver teams were on the road.
“We were never home on the same weekend,” explained CGA player Natasha Wanless ’16 (Madison, Wis.), one of the members of the organizing committee. Five players from both prep teams served on the organizing committee and other players served as referees, timekeepers, and chaperones. CGA coach Elizabeth Bennett served as the committee’s supervisor.
Each team played two games on Saturday and one game Sunday. Sandwiched between the Saturday games was lunch in the Lay Dining Hall and a tour of campus. That evening there was a pizza party and dance in the Steinbrenner Recreation Center for 77 players, coaches, parents, and their siblings. Following each Sunday game, there was a special medal presentation.
Each team also received four posters to take home that volunteers made for them. The posters were hung on their locker room doors and on the glass in the rink. They were big and colorful enough that one young goalie had trouble staying focused on the game. He gave up a goal because he was so busy reading them.
It really brings you back to why you play. They’re just out here having a good ole time. It reminds you of every day at practice. You’re working hard but having fun, too.
Wanless and Jamie Collins ’16 (Fergus, Ontario) credited Bennett for providing the continuity to make the festival successful. “She held us all together,” Wanless said. Collins noted that while the committee members volunteered at the event last year, they didn’t know all the details involved with making it work. “She knew what to do since she had done it all before.”
Other committee members were first-classmen Ryan Patrick (Morgantown, W.Va.), Daniel Woolfenden (Mill Creek, Wash.), and Nick Bissonnette (Waterloo, Ontario).
For the CMA Prep players it was an interesting contrast to go from playing for a national championship on Monday to watching special needs youth playing hockey on Saturday and Sunday.
“It really brings you back to why you play,” Bissonnette said. “They’re just out here having a good ole time. It reminds you of every day at practice. You’re working hard but having fun, too.”
It’s the combination of students and the setting that Tofaute believes would make an expanded tournament successful. As a board member of a national special needs hockey organization, he said the hardest part of setting up such a festival would be finding a date.
“The parents and the players love it here,” he said. “And Culver is an established name. People who follow hockey know Culver.”