Pekin, Ill. (WEEK) – It may have been a little bit warmer outside Saturday, but there was cool action inside the Pekin Memorial Ice Arena for the Central Illinois Sled Hockey Association’s Fall Brawl.
Sled – or sledge – hockey was invented in the early 1960’s by a Swedish group who wanted to play hockey, despite their physical disability. Over 50 years later, players with the same goal have the ability to get on the ice in Central Illinois.
Sleds, sticks and plenty of energy are the perfect ingredients for a solid game on the ice for the Central Illinois Thunder.
“I always tell them I don’t care if you win or lose, my joy is just watching you two work together.”
Kathryn Gruber’s sons Aaron and Christopher play together on the team and she never misses a game.
“There’s just a lot of little things that the average person doesn’t think about that maybe some of our players struggle with, but they get together and talk about ways to just have a better day,” said Gruber.
Michael Eganhouse says he loves to play because it levels the playing field for him and other athletes.
“When I’m out there playing, I don’t feel disabled,” Eganhouse said. “It really gives me a chance to show others that I’m just like you are and that my disability doesn’t define me.”
Eganhouse was one of the first players to join the Thunder when it was created four years ago. He is proud of how the group has come and says it is all thanks to their head coach.
“Just because you get a kid that might have a physical disability or mental disability, they want to be treated the same as you would treat any other kid,” said Kirk. “Whether it’s stand up hockey or sledding, we push them to be independent.”
An opportunity everyone is thankful for, no matter the outcome of a game.
“It’s not always about winning and losing. It’s about being the best person you can be that day and everyday. They’re learning that on the ice,” Gruber said.
Coach Kirk says the team is always looking for more players and their season runs into the spring.
You can find the team’s Facebook page by clicking here.