Arizona Rubber

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Mission Special Edition program going strong in Year 2

 

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Mission Special Edition Logo 1A little more than a year ago, when the Mission Special Edition program was first getting off the ground, director Brandi Goltz and head coach Rod Rihela had no idea what to expect.

Goltz had spent years thinking about starting a hockey program for kids with special needs, and after many months planning, still had no idea what the response would be.

Now the program is well into its second season, and it couldn’t be going any better.

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Mission Special Edition has approximately 25 players on its roster, ranging in age from 6-16, with kids of all skill levels. Each Monday, players from Mission AZ’s Bantam and Midget teams – along with Rihela and other coaches from Mission’s other teams – work with the special needs players in 30-minute sessions that focus on everything from the basics to advanced skills.

“Since we’ve been at this more than a year, our kids from the Mission program are starting to develop relationships with the special needs players, and that’s really cool to see,” said Jeremy Goltz, Mission’s director of hockey operations. “They’re even more part of our family than they were last year. They’re coming to our games, holiday parties and other events, and they know our kids by name. It’s really cool to see how it has taken off.”

Some kids spend most of their time on the ice in chairs, and others are just getting their feet under them learning to skate, but all the players get a boost of confidence and a sense of belonging by being able to participate in a sport that previously hadn’t been accessible to them.

“It has been so cool to see the progression these kids have experienced,” Goltz said. “Kids who started in chairs a year ago are starting to stand up on their skates. They’re all taking big steps and making great progress.”

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Goltz said he understands the importance of giving back and helping people of different abilities, and he knows how important it is to instill those same values in kids at the high-school age. Along with teaching the special needs players skating and stick-handling skills, Mission’s Bantam and Midget players are learning compassion and empathy while experiencing the joy of helping others.

He said the kids who serve as mentors often get as much out of the experience as the special needs players, and he has beamed with pride as he has witnessed the kids from each group developing true friendships.

Goltz credits his wife, Brandi, and Rihela for putting in the time and effort to make this program so impactful for so many kids.

“It’s Brandi’s passion, and she’s put in the legwork and the hours to get it going – it’s her passion,” Goltz said. “Rod has done a terrific job as well, and the two of them have really gotten to know the kids and their families on a personal level.”

Goltz said the experiences that the special needs players get from participating in hockey go far beyond the hockey skills they are learning. He’s proud of the fact that so many people from within the Mission program have jumped on board with the idea and supported what it’s all about.

After all, Mission players and coaches will tell you their program is one big family.

“We wanted to give these kids a chance to play hockey,” Goltz explained. “For them to get out there and exercise, and to go through the process of getting dressed in their gear, it gives them a sense of inclusion that they may not get elsewhere. We’ve heard plenty of stories about kids working on their skills at home. They feel like hockey players, and to us, that’s very important.”

— Greg Ball

(Jan. 28, 2019)