Chicago Storm Special Hockey is truly special

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By Larry Atseff | Photos Laura Meyer

When you visit the Chicago Storm Special Hockey website, the first headline that greets you asks the question:

“Want to be part of something AWESOME?”

According to Michelle Willard, who co-chairs the group with her husband Wayne, the organization exists so that over 100 children and adults with Autism, Down Syndrome, and other intellectual disabilities can learn to play and enjoy ice hockey. Players range from 5 to 55 and include boys and girls, men and women.

The group, now in its 24th year, is supported by the families of the players, plus coaches, including junior coaches. All are volunteers. They play at hockey rinks from Chicago to Rockford to Glen Ellyn to Orland Park to Gurnee. There is even international travel.

According to Willard, “Everyone puts in the effort to raise funds for all the equipment, uniforms, and rink rental, as well as rooting for the team during games. We teach the game properly with all the supervision needed to keep the game safe for the players. As a result, we all feel like we are just one big family supporting each other and getting the satisfaction of seeing players grow and gain confidence and skills and having fun.”

Part of the family are junior coaches who play high school hockey. One such coach is Marcus Weller, who plays for the Hinsdale Hockey Club and is a junior at Hinsdale Central. When he heard about the program, he started coaching on Saturdays.

“I teach beginners how to skate and another group how to play hockey,” he said. “They look up to us and really enjoy what they are learning. It’s not a job; it’s fun. The other day, I saw one player lying on the ice and hurried over, and he said, ‘I am just stretching.’ It is a joy to the heart.”

If you are interested in supporting Chicago Storm Special Hockey, visit
chicagospecialhockey.com.

A fundraiser will take place on June 2 at Top Golf in Naperville, with all proceeds benefiting the team. ■

Junior Coach Marcus Weller on the ice with his players

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