September 5, 2002
Methodist to launch state's first hockey team for physically challenged athletes
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
FLOWOOD, Miss.—Like a lot of Mississippians, Tom Burnley didn’t know much at all about hockey before a minor-league team started checking, icing and shooting in Jackson three years ago.
“Even then, I still never really followed the sport,” he said. “I was just interested.”
So when Burnley participates in a sled hockey clinic held this weekend by Methodist Rehabilitation Center, he’ll be in the unique position of playing in his first hockey practice without having ever actually watched a game in person.
Members of the U.S. gold medal winning Paralympic sled hockey team will be in Jackson Saturday-Monday, Sept. 7-9, to help Methodist Rehab start the state’s first sled hockey team for the physically challenged. More than 20 athletes from around the state are expected to attend.
Paralympic team members, Dave Conklin, James Dunham and Lonnie Hannah will coach and advise the players who will come to Jackson from all across the state. They will also be joined by members of the Dallas Sled Stars hockey team, Jeff McKenney, president of the Tennessee Sled Hockey Association and vice president of the U.S. Sled Hockey association and Cliff Spencer, head coach of the Regulators, the TSHA’s sled hockey team.
For Burnley, whose spinal cord injury makes it difficult for him to participate in disabled sports that only have paraplegic and quadriplegic divisions, this is an opportunity to play sports with a team again. Anyone with a physical disability that prevents them from playing regular hockey is eligible to play sled hockey.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun and I can’t wait till Sunday when we get out there on the ice,” he said. “I’ve never even been on ice before unless you count walking next to a frozen pond.”
Saturday new players will learn the rules of the sport and be fitted for equipment in the conference center at Methodist Rehab. Participants will hit the ice Sunday and Monday mornings at the Ice Park on Lakeland Drive in Flowood.
Sled hockey uses the same rules, number of players, rink size and strategies as standing hockey. Players sit on specially designed sleds and use two short hockey sticks to propel their sleds and play the puck.
Hockey hit big in Jackson three years ago when the East Coast Hockey League came to town with the Jackson Bandits. Since then, hockey lingo has crept ever so slowly into local Southern dialect.
But Burnley says all he knows about hockey, he learned from the Internet. “I’ve been researching online since I found out about the new team,” he said. “I’ve been studying the rules and equipment and I can’t wait to hit the ice.”
Ginny Boydston, director of therapeutic recreation at Methodist Rehab, has always sought ways for people with disabilities to lead active, healthy and fun lives. She’s organized rugby teams as well as rock climbing, scuba diving snow and water skiing programs. But after seeing the Bandits in action, she knew there was another sport she wanted to bring to Mississippi’s physically challenged athletes.
“Since the Bandits arrived in town, I’ve wanted to do this. I’ve seen disabled teams in other hockey towns and I’ve seen the benefits of the sport—increased self esteem, independence, fitness and socialization,” she said. “The Bandits and the Ice Park have been very supportive of what we’re doing.”
Youth hockey team members and representatives from the Jackson Bandits will also be at the Ice Park to help out.
“The Jackson Bandits have done so much for us,” said Boydston. “They are letting us use some of their equipment and the team’s coaches, trainers and players will be even more involved once players have been chosen for the hospital’s team.
“This is very exciting for us because we’ve been planning and hoping for this for a long time. We are looking forward to sled hockey in Mississippi and we’re going to have the best people in the country to learn from this weekend.”
For more information about sled hockey or therapeutic recreation at Methodist Rehab, log on to www.methodistonline.org.
Methodist Rehabilitation Center provides comprehensive medical rehabilitation programs for people with spinal cord and brain injuries, stroke and other neurological and orthopedic disorders and treats patients from all of Mississippi’s 82 counties and from other states. The 124-bed state-of-the-art hospital in Jackson is the only freestanding rehabilitation hospital in Mississippi and one of only 17 in the country designated as a Traumatic Brain Injury Model System by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.
For more information:
State's first sled hockey team begins practice | The Clarion-Ledger
Hockey for the Physically Challenged | Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame