Anyone can play hockey. That’s the motto for the Baltimore Saints Special Hockey Team.
“It’s really an amazing group to be a part of,” said Natalie Fischer, a mentor with the organization.
No matter the challenge or disability, The Saints provide an opportunity for those with special needs to leave their worries at the door, and just play hockey.
18-year-old Gabrielle Douglas is one of many players on the team. She’s been a part of the Baltimore Saints for eight years and doesn’t let Down Syndrome hold her back from doing what she loves.
“I really like playing the game,” said Gabrielle.
“She’s an equal to anybody else,” said Michelle Douglas, Gabrielle’s mother. “She really likes that. This is her place to shine.”
Jim and Teresa Zinkhan created the Saints 10 years ago with just 45 players. Now it provides an opportunity for more than 100 players in the area.
“It’s not what we’ve accomplished, it’s what the kids have accomplished,” said Teresa Zinkhan. “To watch them come on the ice and that’s a scary venue out there for them. And for them to come out of their comfort zone and get on the ice and attempt this, it’s amazing.”
The Baltimore Saints have become more than just a team. For many, it’s more like a family.
“It is amazing that this resource is available to us,” said Michelle Douglas. “Special needs children really do come with special needs parents and we’re able to be that here.”
“There’s a lot of times when kids with special needs struggle to be part of a team, or struggle to understand the social cues,” said Jill Wagoner. “This has really helped (her son) be a teammate and proud to be something that he’s a part of”.
For those who dedicate their time and energy every week, what they’re getting in return is priceless
“I like just watching their faces as they walk in in the mornings and seeing them smile,” said Austin Geller.
“It’s excellent because I get to see their faces light up every time they come,” said Jimmy Yanchulis.
“It’s personally really inspiring,” said Fischer. “I’ve had challenges and to see them fall down and get back up and keep trying, it reminds you to keep doing that yourself too”
Teaching invaluable lessons on and off the ice
The Baltimore Saints are always looking for donations to help keep costs low for parents. The team is also always looking for volunteers and mentors to get involved. For more information visit their website