For the past several years, David and Carol Fisher have been driving their son Matthew to Toronto, to play hockey for the Don Mills Diamonds...a team of players who have autism or Aspergers Syndrome. Realizing that Peterborough is Hockeytown, David and Carol wondered why it couldn't be possible to have a team in Matthew's hometown for kids with similar special needs.
And one year later, with Saturday's inaugural practise (sporting brand new jerseys), the Kawartha Komets are here.
It's difficult to describe the emotion that was in the arena...so far removed from what many of us have witnessed in minor hockey (like parents yelling at referees...or screaming at their kids, fully convinced their child will be the next NHL superstar).
No. There were no NHL expectations here... as they gathered around the boards encouraging their children on...giving hugs and high-fives...snapping pictures and taking videos...with smiles that seemed to go from one blue line to the other. For the first time, their children were able to experience something that so many others take for granted - - to play hockey, on a team.
The Kawartha Komets will actually be putting two teams on the ice this year, featuring players between the of ages between 6 and 20...with a varying range of hockey skills. That's where I come into the picture. My daughter Emily and I have volunteered, as Pete Dalliday has as well, to help these incredible children develop on the ice. David and Carol have also recruited their nephew to be the Honourary Captain of the Komets...some guy by the name of Mike Fisher of the Ottawa Senators. The NHL Players Association has also just confirmed a generous donation of 16 full sets of equipment for the team.
Autism and Aspergers present unique challenges for some of these children in order to play hockey. For some with sensitivities to the sensation of touch, the feeling of having equipment on is an issue in itself. For others, the rationale behind taking turns on the ice or understanding rules of the game will be an issue.
But, as I talked to some of the kids and parents, I came to the realization on Saturday that these challenges are merely obstacles that (with understanding, patience and commitment on our part) will be overcome...just as many other so-called obstacles have been overcome in their lives.
I have so much respect for the moms and dads I met this weekend...who deal with these challenges every day...and will do whatever it takes to allow their child to experience new things, to grow and explore their limitless potential.