By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
For the first time in three years the Special Needs Athletes and Persons hosted its SoCal Special Hockey Festival.
Saturday’s event at the Cube saw special-needs teams from Bakersfield, Simi Valley and San Diego all join the Valencia Flyers in competing in a fun day of ice hockey.
The festival kicked off as the Flyers’ own Sebastian Mancipe, who is blind, played the national anthem on violin. Teammate Ryan Schultte followed and sang before he and the team took the ice.
The Flyers opened up the day with a game against the California Condors of Simi Valley.
Carlo Roque, Michael Shows and Blaine Stach of the Flyers took to the ice for their first game, all playing great offense and defense.
“It feels really good playing a lot,” said Shows. “I love being back, love playing here and love being with my team.”
The event featured each team playing three games against every opponent as well as a coaches’ game.
Athletes with dozens of various disorders overcame notions that they couldn’t play and hit the ice in full gear. They competed in a sport they loved but most importantly triumphed.
The festival showcased just four Southern California teams in its return to Santa Clarita but will likely soon return to its height of hosting teams from around the globe.
SNAP President Chris Schrage has organized events with teams from around the country, Canada and the United Kingdom.
“SNAP Sports provides individuals with disabilities the opportunity to engage in a variety of sports-based activities,” said Schrage. “Our athletes often shatter the notion of commonly held limitations, by accepting the challenge of more complex competitive sports. Players gain confidence and poise while becoming better equipped to manage their individual disabilities. Athletes who participate regularly, routinely develop the essential physical and social skills needed to improve their everyday lives.”
SNAP was gearing up to host the event in 2020 before the COVID-19 shutdown hit sports hard.
“When we first thought we were going to lose the rink it was very devastating to everybody,” said SNAP Flyers head coach Joseph Martin. “Then, when things started to open back up again and the rink was open, we got right to work with practice.”
The teams couldn’t be happier to have the chance to compete again.
“It’s amazing to be back on the ice,” said Stach. “It’s fun to play at the Cube. This is our home.”
After the first two games, all teams were brought onto the ice together and honored.
There were plenty of laughs on and off the ice. While everyone was happy to be back, there was plenty of friendship and community on display at the Cube.
“SNAP hockey is a very tight community,” said Martin. “Everyone’s very involved from the parents to the volunteers and coaches. We’re all like a little family. We get to know their kids and the parents very well. When we have events like that tournament it all brings us closer together.”
The teams all took their photos with smiles resulting from a great day for SNAP and ice hockey.
“I only have two rules for our program. Rule one, have fun. Rule two, see rule one,” said Schrage.
SNAP’s festival has been the only special-needs hockey festival east of the Rockies, marking the importance of events like this on the West Coast.
SNAP has several other sports offered in their programs in action or returning soon. As for the Flyers, the first season back is winding down, but the future looks bright in Santa Clarita for special-needs hockey.
“Many of our athletes have been told no or they can’t do something because of a disability they may have,” said Schrage. “But when they get on the ice… they ‘Shatter the Notion of Limitations.’ My heart feels so full after leaving practices and games. I love being able to pass my knowledge of the sport off to those that love to be out there and each one of these athletes loves to be out there. I cannot wait for our next season, but in the meantime we also have flag football, cheer and our running program right around the corner.”