The Press Newspaper
Putting on a pair of skates and getting on the ice with the Black Swamp Ice Frogs has done wonders for Williston resident Brian Loomis’ son.
Paul Loomis, 4, was born with cerebral palsy and has a disability on the left side of his body, where his leg doesn’t stretch and work the same way as his right side, according to Brian.
“If he were to walk by you,” Brian said, “you wouldn’t think anything was wrong. He wears a brace. He started skating when he was 3, after he saw his older brother, Ben (7), skate. He said he wanted to skate, so we started signing him up for lessons in Bowling Green, through the BGSU Ice Arena.”
Brian said he saw a flyer for the Ice Frogs, a Toledo- and Bowling Green-based hockey team for kids with disabilities. He traded phone calls and emails with the Ice Frogs’ coach, Mike Howick, to see if young Paul, who will be in kindergarten at Genoa Elementary next fall, could attend one of the team’s practices.
“We wanted to try it and see how it went after the first day,” Brian said. “The first day we got him out there skating and I helped out with some of the other kids, teaching them how to skate and help them out. Paul needs a little help with all his gear on, getting back up. It’s a good time. Ben is out there helping.”
Howick said the Ice Frogs had seven skaters participating at any given time during this past season.
“It’s not a spectacular year to start out, but it’s a start,” Howick said. “It’s not a Special Olympics team, but it’s similar to that. It’s under the direction of USA Hockey. We started last fall, so we’re in our first year. We’re really geared more toward (people with) mental disabilities than physical disabilities, such as autism and Down syndrome. There is a demand for this.”
Howick, whose son Jack, 7, has a form of autism, said the Ice Frogs invite anyone “from 2 to 100 to just get out there and get on the ice and we’ll take it from there.”
“Some players show up who can skate and can do some speed skating and are very active,” he said. “Some have never been on skates. We have one player, I’m not sure if he can really run, but we got him up on skates on his own a couple times around the rink. He knows he’s out there and he’s enjoying it, and that’s what we’re there for. He’s skating. Maybe not at lightning speed, but he’s participating. That’s been a great success story.
“The kids enjoy it. We don’t have a lot of older people, but it’s definitely open to kids of all ages.”
Howick said another hockey coach, Chris Cox, was instrumental in getting the Ice Frogs started, and the team has received a lot of support from parents and other people in the community. He added that there are about 60 such teams across the country.
“We have (players) from Toledo, Bowling Green, Gibsonburg,” Howick said. “The geography is only limited by how far somebody wants to travel.”
The Ice Frogs, whose “season” began in mid-October and ended March 3, practiced every Sunday at the BGSU Ice Arena. Two team members competed for the Ann Arbor Rockets in the second annual UCT Winter Hockey Festival Feb. 16 in Toledo.
Howick wanted to make it clear that the Ice Frogs don’t compete in traditional hockey games. No scores are kept, and players do not hit each other. Call it organized recreation on skates.
“The volunteers who have come out to help have been great,” Howick said. “We’ve had 6 to 10 volunteers every week. We’re looking for people to come out to play, at all levels and all ages. We understand what the caregivers are going through, so this is an hour where they can sit back and not worry. This is non-contact, non-competitive. It’s just out hitting the puck and skating. The goal is not so much to play hockey but to get the kids out to exercise and be interactive.”
Brian Loomis has seen firsthand what participating with the Ice Frogs has done for his son.
“At first it was something new for him and he was slow to take to it,” Brian said. “Once he got going and found out he could play actual hockey games and block some pucks and do faceoffs like in real hockey games, he just loved it. At first he would get dressed and wait for us to go out (on the ice) with him. This time (March 3), he was already on the ice without us. He went all the way out there without us.”
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