Recess at the Rink
By Megan Eichenberg
A short time after the ice cleared following a recent Washington Capitals practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, a new shift of players began circling the boards.
The athletes – some on skates, others escorted by sled onto the ice – had just observed the team’s drills from a balcony above the rink before transitioning onto the surface for an experience tailored to their own physical and cognitive abilities.
Through the Washington Capitals and Dreams for Kids (DFK), an international children’s charity that presents youth with leadership programs and life-changing activities, 70 children with physical and developmental disabilities were able to participate in an Extreme Recess hockey clinic.
Paired one-on-one with a volunteer from DFK, the children were joined by Capitals defenseman John Erskine and forwards Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle.
For more than an hour, the players skated and played sled hockey with the children, incorporating the basics of puckhandling, passing and shooting into their interactions.
“To see the smiles on their faces and how excited they were made it a blessing to be out there,” said Beagle. “I hope the kids had a blast learning something new and will remember the experience for the rest of their lives.”
The educational aspect of the event was especially significant to Arousha Shahin, director of the Manassas, Va., based Minds in Motion Academy. The school provides children in kindergarten through fourth grade with an environment that focuses on developing sensory skills.
Shahin was at the event with 14 academy students on a field trip and said while encountering large crowds or loud noises is often stressful for the children, the hockey clinic and its attention to special needs adolescents served as a positive environment for them to utilize the lessons they learn in school.
“Having the chance to put these skills to use means the world to the children,” Shahin said.
Instruction directly from Capitals players also was inspiring to the Extreme Recess participants.
“When they watch TV and recognize the teams and how hard they work and the recognition, I think a part of them – whether it’s confidence or self-esteem – they want to share that and be able to experience that somehow,” Shahin said. “Having the chance to watch the team and being close enough that they can identify with it really gives them a sense of self-confidence.”
The event was the second consecutive season the Capitals partnered with DFK. Last summer DFK conducted an Extreme Recess basketball clinic at Verizon Center, featuring instruction from former Mystics center Ta’Shia Phillips as well as a surprise cameo from Wizards guard John Wall.