One Step Bobcats program emphasizes NHL motto that ‘Hockey Is For Everyone’
Jared Woosley said that it was “a beautiful coincidence” that the NHL happened to adopt the ‘Hockey Is For Everyone’ motto the same year that the One Step Bobcats were born.
The One Step Bobcats are a team of individuals 18 and older that belong to a league – the American Special Hockey Association – that provides hockey to individuals with special challenges.
Woosley is the program’s head coach after taking the reins during the inaugural 2016-17 season. The One Step Bobcats had 30 players a year ago and figure to build on that number for 2017-18.
Woosley and his wife, Kristin, both work for a nonprofit organization called One Step Beyond. Jared teaches music and Kristin teaches dance and performing arts. He coaches the One Step Bobcats with Mindy French and Jimmy Ricuito, but many volunteers also help out.
“Part of what we believe in is providing an array of different sorts of opportunities to our students with special challenges,” Woosley said. “In order for individuals to find their passions, it must first exist and be made available to them so they can discover it. My dad was the reason I fell in love with hockey in the first place and standing in my (hockey) garage after he passed, my wife and I suddenly got the idea to start a team at our program. First, we had to see if we could recruit some fantastic individuals within the hockey community to help us out.
“Within the first day of phone calls, we had the help from what then became the original founders of the team. Dawn and Caden Proefrock, Rob and Karen Kerns (their son Seth plays on the team, and is a member at One Step Beyond) spread the word and a day later and a phone call into Justin Rogers led to a night of us up in the rafters at Arcadia Ice Arena putting together as many bags of used gear as we could.
“The heart of the Rogers family couldn’t have been truer because a month later they provided us with three months of ice (at AZ Ice Peoria) for our very first season.”
Add to that the fact that the Arizona Coyotes then jumped on board and the One Step Bobcats may have had to pinch themselves to indeed believe that this was really happening.
“We wanted to get involved with the One Step Bobcats because we want to give anyone and everyone a chance to play hockey,” said Coyotes director of amateur hockey development Matt Shott. “This group is such an inspirational team that can hopefully encourage similar groups to seek expanding the sports encyclopedia by trying to play hockey.”
“Matt Shott has become family,” added Woosley. “He is personally at the majority of our twice-weekly practices. He has helped and supported us in uncountable ways. The players adore him and he’s a pretty good skater, too.”
The Coyotes provided the One Step Bobcats some new equipment, financial assistance, ice time, and their own customized Coyotes jerseys.
“We are always looking for other ways to support them as well,” said Shott.
Last season, Woosley said he wasn’t exactly sure what to expect with the new endeavor, but it turned out to be more than he ever expected.
“We did give our best shot at making it as fun as possible for our players by just getting them on the ice,” said Woosley. “Most were in chairs because they had never skated before. We wanted them to fall in love with the experience on their own time. The only thing that was introduced to them at that time was guidance and a bucket full of pucks, thanks to Randy Exelby from Behind The Mask Hockey Shops. That was the first of many great things Randy and his amazing team did for us.
“The local hockey community came out to volunteer in droves and soon, our players found the love of the game. They gained a work ethic towards a passion that drove them to carry in their own heavy bags of gear into the locker room themselves, figure out the order in which to put their gear on, the effort and focus to finally get out of their chairs and skate. Those are things a brand-new team figures out together. Their comradery was born during the preparation before their actual ice time. And with weekly motivation from ‘Howler’ and the Arizona Coyotes, they gained their confidence and identity.”
Over this past summer, the One Step Bobcats were back on the ice and Woosley said, “they were ready to learn the game.”
“They discovered the glory of scoring goals, the feeling of an empowering glove save and the way the cold wind feels on your face when you skate fast around the ice,” beamed Woosley. “They couldn’t wait to get to the rink. They are now so ready to play another team. It reminds me of the movie ‘Mystery, Alaska,’ where for now, until they get the opportunity, they are content with playing each other. But at the same time, they cheer each other on. It is more about fun and companionship and less about competition.”
And with the aforementioned NHL philosophy that was introduced last season, the One Step Bobcats getting on the ice was perfect timing.
“We both needed each other – we are able to help support the Coyotes by representing a group of individuals who have not yet been, at lease here in Phoenix, with this fantastic motto,” said Woosley. “It’s so true and it’s a wonderful thing for the NHL to take this stance. And yes, hockey can be played by everyone and for many of our players, it is extremely therapeutic. For many of them, their confidence has majorly increased – hockey has become a catalyst for them in their journeys toward personal growth. It’s amazing watching the moments when people impress themselves by conquering a task they never knew to try or had the courage to or the opportunity to try.
“We have individuals who thought and said they couldn’t ever play the game due to their ‘disability.’ Man, were they wrong about what this game is about. So many parents flipped their stance on the game once they saw their loved ones enjoying it the way they did.”
As the new season rapidly approaches, Woosley said the One Step Bobcats are ready to travel to meet and play other teams.
“The social aspect of this is crucial,” he said. “They have expressed much excitement about playing in a tournament with other teams like them and making new friends, but we need to do a little more fundraising to afford the journey. It’s been a promise that has yet to be fulfilled, but I know the day will come.”
“The team is destined for glory,” added Shott. “They have four or five players that are very strong skaters, hungry for the puck, and love scoring goals. I cannot wait to see them play in future tournaments with other special hockey associations. Their love, passion and utter joy for being on the ice is infectious, and they are so much fun to be around.”
— Matt Mackinder
(Oct. 4, 2017)