Mission AZ moving to establish ‘Mission Special Edition’
For the last five years, Brandi Goltz has fostered a dream of starting a hockey program for children with special needs, and after many stops and starts, she believes that “Mission Special Edition” is nearing reality.
“I worked in special education earlier in my career, and I realized early on how much these kids were left out of the mainstream activities,” said Goltz, the co-executive director of Mission AZ. “I was thinking about it even before Mission started, and it just took a few years before I could find a way to make it happen.”
To get the program started, Goltz and her team knew they need to take the first step of collecting equipment and estimating how many kids they could serve. During the first week of October, Mission held an equipment drive at AZ Ice Peoria, asking parents to donate used gear.
The response was overwhelming, with 90 pairs of skates, 75 pairs of gloves, 68 helmets, 67 pairs of pants and countless other pieces of equipment donated in just five days. Plenty of parents who couldn’t make it reached out to the program via Facebook asking when they could drop off even more gear.
“We decided to just pick a date and give the equipment drive a try because otherwise, we knew we’d find a million reasons not to get started,” Goltz said. “The response was incredible.”
The next step in building the program will be an orientation for players and their families sometime in November, and then Goltz expects to get players on the ice within a week. She said Rodney Rihela, an avid supporter who also has a child with special needs, will serve as the head coach, and Mission will require each of its teams to work with the Special Edition players on a rotating basis. With on-ice sessions likely to be held once a week, each team will volunteer once every month or two and dedicate the final 30 minutes of their practice to mentoring Special Edition players.
“It’s a way to promote that inclusion, so all our kids are involved and invested in some way,” Goltz said. “We’re pretty transparent from the get-go – we expect our kids to give back and perform community service. I know our players, and I can’t imagine anyone not being on board.”
Rihela has been by Goltz’s side throughout the entire process of taking the program from concept to reality.
“I knew he’d play an important role in the program,” Goltz said. “We’ll have all kinds of people volunteering, but we need one consistent person that we can count on and has something invested in the program.”
Goltz also said she has received overwhelming support from Jared Woosley, who founded the One Step Bobcats special needs hockey program approximately a year ago. She read about his program earlier this year in Arizona Rubber Magazine and was shocked she didn’t know about it, conceding that she’s so involved in Mission that she sometimes misses what’s happening outside the rink walls.
She reached out to Woosley expecting that she may not receive a response simply because his program was so developed that he may not have time for her. Instead, he responded almost immediately and began a dialogue to help however he could. He has even gone as far as to assist in applying for grants through his contacts with USA Hockey’s disabled program.
“This is really a collaboration between Mission and the One Step Bobcats,” Goltz said. “We couldn’t do it without them.
“On one hand, you don’t want it to be different than other teams in the program, but on the other hand, you want to celebrate and highlight the differences. What is our definition of success? Whether we have nine players or 90, we’ll try to give them the best experience possible.”
— Greg Ball
(Oct. 23, 2017)