December 11, 2003
Sled hockey boosts Callaway students self esteem, communication skills
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
FLOWOOD, Miss.—After spending an hour learning how to chase a puck across the ice, Leon Kennedy of Jackson had just one question for his teachers.
“Can I come back tomorrow?” he asked.
That brought grins from members of Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s sled hockey team, who spent a recent Thursday morning teaching the sport to Leon and his fellow students from Callaway High School’s exceptional education class.
“I like seeing the excitement in their faces,” said Tom Burnley of Jackson, the team’s goalie.
“It’s neat to get the responses from the kids,” agreed Sheila Burnham of Madison. “I love it. It’s like being back in the third grade and it’s recess.”
Sled hockey got its start in the 1960s at a rehabilitation hospital in Sweden. Disabled athletes there turned hockey into a sit-down sport by using metal sleds equipped with two skate blades to get around the rink. Shortened hockey sticks fitted with picks on one end allowed them to propel themselves and pass the puck.
A grant from Project Start brought sled hockey to Jackson and Methodist launched a team in September, 2002, said Ginny Boydston, director of the hospital’s therapeutic recreation program. Methodist’s team consists of players with various levels of paralysis, and Boydston said the team is in the middle of its first season.
Boydston said the team likes to introduce the “all-inclusive” sport to others and was especially eager to share it with the Callaway teens.
“The hockey team has been so blessed by support from Methodist and from the Mississippi Paralysis Association that we got together and decided to give a little something back,” she said. “We thought they would really enjoy it.”
Until she saw her 18-year-old son Westley on the ice, M.J. Harvey of Jackson admits she had reservations about letting him play. But as she watched him glide by grinning ear-to-ear, she said the class had been a great idea.
“He’s having a ball,” she said, as she videotaped and photographed his delight. “We’ve always encouraged Westley to do lots of things, and this is very educational. It gives him a fun opportunity, and he can learn at the same time.”
“Recreational and leisure activities are so important and this definitely is a unique one,” said Jan Harkins, augmentative communication specialist for Jackson Public Schools. “This opportunity raises their self esteem and improves their social and communication skills. And it’s an opportunity we wouldn’t have had if Methodist Rehab and Ginny Boydston hadn’t offered to share equipment and expertise and to pair athletes with our students.”
Boydston said she was happy that the school district wanted to work with the hospital to offer the students this opportunity. “The team gets just as much out of it as the students,” she said. “Our team is working really hard to develop and helping others is another aspect of that team focus. Mentoring someone else gives them a way to give.”
Westley Harvey, right, shares his enthusiasm for the sport of sled hockey with Ginny Boydston, director of Methodist Rehabilitation Center's therapeutic recreation program.
Sheila Burnham, left, and Ginny Boydston, right, offer encouragement to Westley Harvey as he tries his hand at playing sled hockey.