As the sun beat down on the warm SoCal Saturday afternoon, SNAP Sports athletes escaped the heat into the Ice Station Valencia to skate and celebrate the end of their Skate-a-thon fundraising campaign.
Special Needs Athletes and Peers, SNAP Sports, is a nonprofit athletic organization that provides youth with developmental and physical disabilities with the training and resources to participate in sporting activities like cheerleading, running, football and hockey. Since it was founded in 2013, the company has grown to serve about 100 athletes in Santa Clarita and hosts the annual Skate-a-thon fundraiser to help pay for its different programs and to cover travel expenses for its teams.
Leading up to the event, skaters raise funds by pledging to stay on the ice and skate for 90 minutes. Over the past six years, the Skate-a-thon has raised an over $100,000. This year, SNAP’s executive director Dade Chase said he hopes to raise about $30,000, and will donate ten percent of those proceeds to the family of fallen firefighter Arnie Quinones.
“About four years ago we started looking for appropriate opponents for our special needs hockey team, and it takes a special understanding to play with a special needs team since the game is so fast paced and intense,” Chase said. “I thought of first responders and the fire department because of the nature of the work and I knew they had a team. They serve as our opponents every year, including tonight, and it’s a good opportunity to give back to them.”
Christina Haselbusch runs a support group for families with disabled children and discovered SNAP Sports through word of mouth. She said that she wasn’t sure if the program was right for her son, but found out that he loved it.
“The SNAP coaches are all very patient and understand what our children’s’ needs are,” Haselbusch said. “The growth of these children is unreal. This is the third week my son has been without a walker and he’s out on the ice with a coach. My son can’t walk on a balance beam without people assisting him and the fact that he’s walking on ice skates unassisted blows my mind.”
After a 90 minute free skating period, the SNAP Flyers team faced off against the fire department’s team in a game of hockey.
Garrett Soash, who has been part of the program and playing hockey with the Flyers for five years said that the SNAP program is a big help for people who don’t get as much social activity and is a very welcoming environment.
“One guy on our team wouldn’t say a word when he started, and now the problem is getting him to shut up,” Soash joked. “When you’re special needs, a lot of the time you feel like you can’t do anything and you’re always put down by other people. Being able to play sports with SNAP is amazing because I really enjoy the camaraderie and they show you that you can do anything if you at least try.”