November/December 2015

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30 / NOVEMBER.DECEMBER.2015 RINKMAGAZINE.COM I t was little more than five years ago when Jim O'Neill and B.L. Wylie took a look around at their respective rinks. Something was missing. The rinks themselves—Sugar Land Ice and Sports Center and Ice Skate USA, both in the Houston, Texas area—were doing great. They had each implemented programs like Learn to Skate and Learn to Play to complement their growing hockey and figure skating programs. They even hosted an on-ice production of The Nutcracker each winter. But still, both found that there was an untapped component. There were plenty of opportunities for kids to grow and participate in on-ice activities, but what about those kids who weren't as capable of doing some of those things? What about the kids whose bodies and minds moved at a different pace? "There are very few rinks in the U.S. that offer something for kids with disabilities," says O'Neill, executive director of STARskaters, a program made up of SkateTherapy and sled hockey students. "After first hearing about it, I thought there should be something like that here in Houston." Wylie and O'Neill were introduced through their mutual interest of helping out the community, and more importantly the families of children with varying disabilities. After seeing a program in Buffalo, New York, that focused on skating for the blind and handicapped, O'Neill decided to join the ranks of rinks that do offer something for kids with disabilities. At the same time, Wylie was approached with the idea of helping spe- cial needs kids by one of her former skating students. In search of a student project, she wanted to help those kids learn to skate. Having found a common goal, Wylie and O'Neill collaborated, deciding to offer a STARskaters event four times a year that catered to kids with special needs and disabilities. But what started out as just a quarterly event quickly turned into more. "We took an occasional event— STARSkates, where we do it for a group A Helping Hand SkateTherapy helps skaters become comfortable on and off the ice PHOTOS: COURTESY OF PATRICK OTERO by JESSI PIERCE REAL PROGRAMS Successful programs to consider adopting

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