One Step Bobcats program ‘built on a wing and a prayer’
There’s something amazing happening in the Arizona hockey community, and it’s giving some athletes a chance to experience the sport for the first time.
The One Step Bobcats is a first-year program for special needs kids and adults, and is the first program of its kind in the Phoenix area that allows those with intellectual disabilities to play the game.
Earlier this year, the program was just an idea in the brains of founders Jared and Kristin Woosley, but it quickly came to fruition with the support of many in the local hockey community, and just a few months later could already be considered a rousing success.
“At One Step Beyond, we are always trying to provide the students with different opportunities and helping them discover their passions,” Jared Woosley said. “A lot of our participants are really into hockey. We wanted to start a hockey team, and we thought ‘Why not?’
“This has definitely lived up to my expectations. I’m thrilled that we’re able to showcase these individuals’ abilities, rather than focusing on their disabilities.”
The One Step Bobcats were founded by Woosley – a hockey player and former musician turned music teacher at the Glendale branch of One Step Beyond, a non-profit organization offering comprehensive programs for adults with intellectual disabilities in Arizona and California – along with his wife, longtime friend and hockey teammate Dawn Proefrock and her son Caden, and Rob Kerns, the director of player promotion for the Arizona Bobcats, and his wife Karen. The One Step Bobcats are registered with the American Special Hockey Association and are on the ice for practice or games two days a week, mostly at AZ Ice in Peoria.
Dawn Proefrock said that when she, Woosley and Kerns began reaching out to their local hockey contacts for support, the response was overwhelming.
Arcadia Ice donated equipment and Bobcats director of hockey Ron Filion supplied game jerseys, warmup jerseys, breezer shells and socks. New sticks came in from the the Cactus Cup, and a delivery of stick tape, water bottles, skate sharpenings, CCM hats and a puck bag full of pucks came from Randy Exelby at Behind The Mask. Matt Shott from the Arizona Coyotes reached out to offer brand-new hockey gear, customized Coyotes jerseys and perhaps most important, ice time at Gila River Arena. Jim and Justin Rogers at AZ Ice have donated regular ice time as well.
Plenty of others have contributed to the cause – too many to name.
“The idea of a special needs hockey team has really brought the entire hockey community together to share the game we all love,” Dawn Proefrock said. “It all came together so fast because of all of the love and support that we have had from our amazing hockey community.”
The One Step Bobcats include approximately 30 players that range in age from 20-40, including Seth Kerns, the 23-year-old son of Rob Kerns. Rob’s four other sons play hockey – two for the Arizona Bobcats – and he said the experience of playing hockey with the One Step Bobcats has been incredible for Seth.
“We’ve always been around hockey – he has been the world’s biggest fan, and now he’s a participant,” Kerns said. “Now he’s just one of the boys. He looks forward to playing hockey, and he’s come out of his shell a little. It’s great physically and emotionally for all of them.”
“I have seen so much growth in each and every player since we began this journey,” Proefrock added. “There’s a light that shines brighter in every One Step Bobcats hockey player – their smiles are bigger each day, and their confidence has soared. They have had the chance to do something that few special needs people ever have the opportunity to try, and they take it very seriously.
“This team was built on a wing and a prayer. It belongs to all of us, and it will take continuous support on and off the ice to keep it going.”
— Greg Ball