Stephanie Maust – Greater Pittsburgh Special Hockey Association


Stephanie Maust – Greater Pittsburgh Special Hockey Association:

First, can you let readers know how the Greater Pittsburgh Special Hockey Association and the Steel City Icebergs got started?  

The origin of Greater Pittsburgh Special Hockey dates back to the 2004-2005 Pennsylvania Amateur Hockey League season.  Alex Weber, the then 10-year-old Butler native suffering from Down Syndrome and nerve damage to his right leg resulting from a tethered spinal cord, had a dream of playing ice hockey.  
Due to his love for the game, Alex’s parents managed to find the time while juggling work, along with his academic tutoring, doctor visits, and physical therapy sessions to substantiate the need for Alex to participate at the Mite level in the PAHL.  After considerable investment of time and effort, permission was granted.  
During that season, Alex Weber displayed tremendous enthusiasm as he, for the first time, engaged in competitive ice hockey.  As his peers prepared to move up to the Squirts, however, Alex’s parents “noticed that the other children were improving their gross motor abilities much quicker and, for safety reasons, opted not to continue his involvement with ice hockey.”  
In the years that followed his last season with PAHL, a saddened Alex couldn’t understand why he had to quit playing hockey.  His mother, Chris Weber, commented: “I would try and explain to him that it is not possible because the teams he would join now are skating very fast and I am afraid that he will get hurt.” In response, Alex just shrugs his shoulders and says “I’m tough.”
So, it was Alex’s love for the game that inspired the formation of Greater Pittsburgh Special Hockey Association. Alex’s life, and that of his parents, is “tough” enough.  It is our goal to provide support to special needs individuals by providing a service that will facilitate:
 Physical development
 Character formation
 Social interaction
 Self-esteem 
The lives of families with disabled children are filled with constant struggle–the struggle to: learn simple tasks most of us take for granted, attain the highest possible level of self-sufficiency, strive toward near grade-level academic achievement, and surmount countless barriers survival in this world presents to the handicapped.  However, for parents, the stress and worry of meeting these challenges is offset by the joyful spirit “special” individuals so often possess.
It is our hope that in addition to the players’ self-enrichment, involvement in special hockey activities will provide desperately needed “downtime” for the overburden families of participants as well as a forum in which the entire family may come together for mutual enjoyment.
How is the league funded and run?  
The league is funded through the generosity of local individuals, organizations, private grants, and fundraising activities.  Center Ice Arena in Delmont, PA donates ice to allow us to have more practices than would have otherwise been possible for us.  At this time, we are a 100% volunteer run Organization.
Where can fans see the team play and how can they help support the team?  
The Icebergs typically play home games at Robert Morris University Island Sports Center.  The team has experienced several road games by traveling to Columbus, Ohio to play another special needs team.  The team also participated in a national special hockey event in Washington, D.C. and represented the Pittsburgh area in April at the Special Hockey International Tournament hosted in Marlborough, Mass.  
Those interested in supporting the team may send a monetary contribution to Greater Pittsburgh Special Hockey Association 101 Powell Road Butler, PA 16002 or contact regarding volunteer opportunities.
What part does the Penguins organization have to play in the league and team –how does it help? 
The Penguins have been instrumental in the successful launch and continued operation of our organization.  In addition to their encouragement, marketing efforts and financial support, the Pens continue to provide enriching opportunities for our athletes and families such as the historic first “Special Hockey Winter Classic” at AE Pavilion on New Year’s Eve 2010, participation in the “Special Hockey International Tournament” near Boston, skating at CONSOL Energy Center, and summer camp with Jim Paek and Phil Bourque.  Honestly, I could go on and on!  They help immensely!

The Penguins organization has been lauded for their community work and participation in  regional hockey –it seems to be a central mission of the organization. What do you think drives this mission and how does it affect your association?  

As with any organization, the driving force behind a given mission is corporate management.   

In the case of the Penguins, high ideals and a strong commitment to philanthropy seems to be prevalent throughout every level of the organization.  As a result, their community endeavors have touched many lives in a way that can only be accomplished when performed in the sincerest spirit of service.  This mindset continues to affect our organization in a multitude of positive ways.

What players from the Penguins most frequently help – and how so?  

I realize that professional athletes have many responsibilities and demands on their time.  From the prospective of prioritizing these diverse demands, I strongly support the Penguin players’ commitment to visit the infirmed patients at Children’s Hospital because these children are not able to get out and enjoy a hockey game or participate in the activities our athletes enjoy.  

For these reasons, I have not approached specific players to attend our practices.  Should time permit, they are welcome to join any Iceberg event!

How can people get registered to play and what are the criteria for being able to do so?

As with most teams, annual player registration with USA Hockey is required.  The current fee charged by USA Hockey is $35 per player.  Anyone unable to pay this fee is welcome to contact me.   I will do my best to find a sponsor.

What are the greatest challenges you face teaching those with developmental disabilities how  to play hockey?  

We consider it a great privilege to serve individuals with disabilities.  The greatest challenge we face is not on the ice.  Rather, it is reaching the area’s disabled individuals to make them aware of our program.  

Once they begin attending practices, it is amazing how quickly they learn the skills, gain confidence, become more social, and have fun!  

What are the greatest frustrations – and rewards – for coaches/volunteers and players?  

From the time the organization was founded, it has been inspirational to observe the needs that occur and  the unexpected that arises to fulfill it.  We have been blessed by awesome participants, volunteers, and donors.  As a whole the experience is so rewarding, I don’t really think of any part of it as frustrating.

When does the team actually take the ice against other teams – and who/when do they do so?  

We began scheduling games last year during our second season.  Other than the tournaments we attended, we played teams from the Columbus and the D.C. metro area both at our home ice at RMU and away. 

What have been some of the greatest successes/stories in your time with the Icebergs?  

There have been many success stories.  One that continues to stand out in my mind is hearing the news that the doctor of one of our participants made the comment that as long as their child continued to participate in our program, he did not see a need for occupational therapy.  

Any other thoughts for readers?  

Please take a moment to consider anyone you know with a disability who may benefit from our program.   Then, spread the word!  Thank you, in advance, for your time and consideration.

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