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Thread: State's first sled hockey team begins practice

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    State's first sled hockey team begins practice

    State's first sled hockey team begins practice


    Special to The Clarion-Ledger

    Like a lot of Mississippians, Tom Burnley didn't know much about hockey before a minor-league team started playing in Jackson about three years ago.

    "Even then, I still never really followed the sport," he said.

    So when Burnley participates in a sled hockey clinic held this weekend by Methodist Rehabilitation Center, he'll be playing in his first hockey practice without ever seeing a game in person.

    Members of the U.S. gold medal-winning Paralympic sled hockey team will be in Jackson through Monday to help Methodist Rehabilitation Center start the state's first sled hockey team for the physically challenged. More than 20 athletes from around the state are expected to attend.

    Methodist Rehab provides services to people with spinal cord and brain injuries, stroke and other neurological and orthopedic disorders.

    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.

    "I've never even been on ice before unless you count walking next to a frozen pond," he said.

    On Saturday new players learned the rules and were fitted for equipment. Participants will hit the ice today and Monday 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.

    Ginny Boydston, director of therapeutic recreation at Methodist Rehab, has organized rugby teams as well as rock climbing, scuba diving snow and water skiing programs. But after seeing the Jackson Bandits in action, she knew there was another sport she wanted to offer.

    "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.

    Youth hockey team members and representatives from the Jackson Bandits will also be at the Ice Park to help out.


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    Paralympians help state launch first sled-hockey team

    Paralympians help state launch first sled-hockey team

    By Collin Johnson/MRC News

    JACKSON -- With a little help from a few guys who had a big win in Utah last winter, Methodist Rehabilitation Center has a new sled hockey team÷the first of its kind in Mississippi and one of only a few in the nation.

    Members of the 2002 gold medal-winning US Paralympic sled hockey team came to Jackson to put 20 physically challenged athletes from around the state through a clinic to learn the game.

    "I was really impressed with how quickly this group picked it up," said Dave Conklin, of LaCrosse, Wis., a winger on the U.S. team that won top honors over Portugal in Salt Lake City's Paralympic games. "If they stay after it, this is going to be a great team."

    The clinic began with video footage of the gold medal-winning performance that not only served to instruct, but also to motivate.

    "It was amazing to see these guys playing against the best in the world and then turn to your right and see them sitting beside you," said Sheila Burnham, a paraplegic from Madison. "After we watched that tape, we couldn't wait to get out there and hit the ice."

    Sunday morning, trainers from the Nashville sled hockey team and a player from Dallas helped clinic participants get dressed out and learn the basics of skating, passing and shooting.

    The rules for sled hockey are no different than regular hockey, but athletes play sitting in metal sleds atop two skate blades. Each player uses two sticks with picks attached at the ends to propel themselves forward. The opposite ends of the sticks are curved to allow players to handle and shoot the puck.

    Anyone with a disability that prevents them from playing able-bodied hockey is eligible for sled hockey.

    The sport got its start in the 1960s at a rehabilitation hospital in Stockholm, Sweden. A group of athletes who had played hockey before their injuries came up with the idea to continue playing in sleds with hockey skates attached to them. It became an official sport at the 1994 Paralympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway where Sweden won the first gold medal.

    In Jackson, officials from the Ice Park and the Jackson Bandits of the East Coast Hockey League offered their support to help get Methodist Rehab's team off the ground.

    "We've ordered equipment and received donations and help from the Bandits, so we're well on our way to setting a date for the team's first official practice," said Ginny Boydston, director of therapeutic recreation at Methodist Rehab.

    Boydston said she wanted to bring disabled ice hockey to Mississippi to provide the state's disabled with another outlet for sport and exercise.

    "There should be something for everyone regardless of their disability. An active lifestyle should be part of everyone's daily routine," Boydston said. "If someone doesn't want to ski, they can rock climb. If they don't want to play rugby, there's tennis. And now, we're going to have hockey."

    In the last few years, southerners have caught on to hockey as more teams like the Bandits have moved to the region.

    "And sled hockey is an all-inclusive sport," said Conklin. "It's co-ed and there aren't age requirements. Anybody can play and that's part of what makes it so much fun."

    Kevin Kimble, a Ridgeland resident and paraplegic, figures to play a lead role on the new team. "It's exciting because it's a team sport and it's physically demanding. I love the action, the contact and the speed of it all," he said.

    "It's a sport where developing your skills will enhance your enjoyment of the game," Kimble added. "There are a lot of challenges when you first start, but as I get better at them, I think I'm going to like playing even more."

    Practice sessions will be more frequent in the coming months as the new team prepares for its first game. Jackson now joins Dallas and Nashville on a small list of southern cities that have sled hockey teams.

    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.



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