By Todd Travis
Inspired to form a team
Back in 2019 there was no such thing as Indy Sled Hockey. This year, Indy Sled Hockey not only has a team, but it has a national championship winning youth team and state championship winning adult team.
Duane Weber had been coaching able-bodied hockey for 35 years and was in his final season as a coach in 2019. Right around the time he was approaching his final game, he happened to see a sled hockey game performing and was inspired by what he saw. Sled hockey is a sport designed for those with physical disabilities who still want the high-energy competition that comes with the sport of hockey. It has a similar set of rules, but each player has a sled with two blades and carries two sticks with picks on one end to help them move around on the ice.
“I love hockey, and I wanted to do something that was purpose-driven. When I saw sled hockey, I felt like I could combine hockey with impacting individuals with physical disabilities as a way to make a difference with what I was doing,” Weber explained.
Checking the boxes to begin a program
A new path opened up for coach Weber, and he wasted no time with his mission. Weber saw the sled hockey team play for the first time on March 1, and he started moving things forward April 1. Weber knew he needed to mark off three big checklist items in order to get things off the ground:
- Getting equipment donations: Weber knew that equipment was expensive and did not want it to be a barrier to entry for the sport. He requested equipment donations at the ice rink where he had coached hockey in Fishers, Ind. He brought watermelon boxes at the rink for players to donate equipment and the rink manager would call him every few days telling him the box was full. Before long, Weber had accumulated 37 sets of equipment for different sizes and ages to use for the program.
- Filing for nonprofit status: This was an important part of making sure the program was structured correctly and would be able to accept donations on a tax-free basis so that dollars donors gave would go further. To Weber’s surprise, he got the approval for that status in under 30 days, which is rare.
- Getting a USA Hockey registration number: Weber made some connections with USA Hockey in his 35 years of working within the sport. He previously started an able-bodied league and had some experience with the process. Even still, he was grateful to have received the official registration number in just two weeks.
Weber accomplished these checklist items and began the league within 30 days of starting the process. Now he was ready to begin recruiting players.
Time to play the game
The first step was to hold a “Try Game” for players interested in trying the sport.
“Two of the kids who helped us win our national championship found out about us during that event and have been on the team since then,” Weber recalled.
That first year the team mainly practiced and played just one scrimmage, which was lost to a much more experienced Fort Wayne, Ind. team, 11-0. The next year (2020-2021) the pandemic hit and kept the team from being able to compete like they hoped. The players remained committed to the team, however, and had their first real season in 2021-2022. With the strong background Weber brought to the table along with the highly talented players that joined the team, they began to build some real momentum for the 2022-2023 season.
“We have some younger players who are actually so talented that we have a hard time finding teams who are willing to play against us,” Weber mentioned.
Championship run and beyond
In the most recent season the youth team brought home the national championship and the adult team brought home the state championship, beating the same Fort Wayne program that routed them back in 2019. A few of the players aspire to play for the Team USA Sled Hockey Team.
The team also hopes to get more people involved to become larger and stronger. They are also continuing to raise funds to make the league possible and affordable for the players. The website and donation links are at the bottom of the article.
Thanks to Perry Park
Weber sends a special thanks to Perry Park for donating ice time for the team and state tournament. He said the team wouldn’t be able to work without their help.
Disabled players of all ages are welcome to play on the team. Both competitive teams and recreational teams are available. For info email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To donate, visit: mtyc.co/gngjdg