Taggart VanderMolen is bursting with energy.
I like to play just about every sport other than football, he said, listing baseball, basketball, soccer and ice hockey.
But the 11-year-old doesn’t have time to pursue them all. So when he was 6, Taggart attended a summer camp that allowed him to sample various sports and choose his favorite.
The winner? Ice hockey.
What’s remarkable about the Michigan fifth-grader’s story is that he had so many viable options. Taggart, who was born with cerebral palsy, spends much of his time in a wheelchair. He can walk but tires easily, his mom, Lindsay VanderMolen, said.
Taggart and his mother were at Lutheran Health SportsCenter on Saturday for the fourth annual Silver Stick Sled Hockey Championship. The event is being held this weekend in conjunction with the sixth annual Bob Chase Frostbite Classic Sled Hockey Tournament for adults.
Eight youth teams converged on Fort Wayne from as far away as Denver and Pittsburgh. Six adult teams traveled from as far as Phoenix and Buffalo, N.Y.
Sled hockey is a lot like it sounds. Players sit on sleds and propel themselves – and a puck – across the ice with 2- to 3-foot sticks outfitted with a flat shooting surface on one end and a sharp pick on the other. The usual rules apply: Players have to put the puck in the goal to score.
Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities, a local nonprofit, and Fort Wayne Youth Hockey co-hosted the tournament. Turnstone is considered a national leader in recreational programs for children and adults with disabilities.
There is no end to what they can participate in. They just do it a little differently, said Tina Acosta, Turnstone’s director of adaptive sports and recreation. At Turnstone, we just look at their possibilities, not their disabilities.
Acosta believes participants in adaptive sports deserve to be treated like any other athletes.
When Turnstone organized a sled hockey goalie camp for last fall, officials included sessions on nutrition and strength and endurance. The camp was the first of its kind.
When Acosta started working there 12 years ago, Turnstone offered only one basketball team. But interest is growing quickly.
The center now offers three wheelchair basketball teams, two sled hockey teams, two power soccer teams and one tennis team. Other sports programs at the center focus on archery, golf, cycling and rowing.
Local officials want to make an even bigger commitment to adaptive sports.
Last summer, they announced plans to pay a consulting firm from Utah $25,000 to study the feasibility of building a medium-sized downtown arena designed to be inclusive for people with physical and intellectual disabilities.
Patti Hayes, chairwoman of the AWS Foundation, formerly Anthony Wayne Services, said such an arena would be good for local Turnstone clients and their families. And, she said, the center could host various regional and national tournaments, attracting out-of-state visitors who would stay in local hotels and eat in local restaurants.
This weekend’s tournament drew an estimated 150 to 200 players and about 500 spectators from at least seven states. Mayor Tom Henry, who also attended the Aug. 27 media event, pledged his support of the proposed project, which would not be on a big enough scale to compete with Memorial Coliseum.
The study was expected to be completed by the end of 2013, but the organization has not yet announced the results.
Taggart, the 11-year-old who has been playing sled hockey for three years, is the goalie for the Grand Rapids Sled Wings. On Saturday, he was suited up in a red and black jersey, waiting for the low-key opening ceremony and his next chance to take the ice with his team.
Lindsay VanderMolen has noticed a boost in her son’s self-esteem since he started playing sled hockey alongside able-bodied teammates, including 10-year-old William Oberg.
They’re just one of the guys instead of something different. They’re all on a level playing field, she said of the wheelchair-bound athletes. (Taggart) played able-bodied soccer for a season, but he was like the mascot. He couldn’t keep up.
The draw of the ice is simple for Taggart, who practices every Saturday morning and plays in tournaments once a month.
I like to hang out with my friends, he said.