By Sean Rooney on January 12, 2019.
When she started promoting sledge hockey in Medicine Hat five years ago, Tara Chisholm would’ve been happy to get a dozen people out for a training session.
The goalposts have definitely moved.
As teams from Calgary join local athletes for a jamboree Saturday and Sunday at the Family Leisure Centre, there are two full adult squads and a junior team representing the Gas City and seemingly more on the way.
“It’s a good mix of people that are currently playing sledge,” said Chisholm, who runs Medicine Hat Adaptive Sport and Recreation and is also the head coach of Canada’s national women’s sledge team. “We have a whole bunch of moms coming out that want to try something new in the city, and I’m like ‘yes please, anyone is welcome.'”
Saturday will see a trio of exhibition games plus a female only try-it session, run by national women’s team player Alanna Mah. There are 16 women and girls signed up for that session alone.
Medicine Hat’s junior program isn’t even a year old and already there are enough players for a full team that will go to the Western Canadian Championships along with the two existing adult squads in March.
“I thought we were just going to have a drop-in thing where kids would join if they found out, give it a shot but not really know,” said Chisholm. “Right from the start of the season, a month in we had our team set.”
Chisholm and Paralympian men’s player Derek Whitson — now her fiancee and assistant coach — first ran a try-it event on New Year’s Eve 2013. Even then, expectations were shattered as 30 people got on a sled.
Since then the sledge program has grown, and thanks to grants from Jumpstart and the Canadian Paralympic Committee Chisholm was able to track down enough kid-sized sleds for the new junior group.
“I wouldn’t have started it without it,” she said. “We had some donated from Edmonton last year but never really used them other than for our schools.
“That’s a big part of it, making sure you have the right equipment.”
The games this weekend will be the first for many new players who have only ever played against their teammates in practice before. It’ll also be a chance to meet other sledge players, an admittedly small fraternity and one that is super welcoming, as the visiting Calgary contingent has already shown.
” Even the Calgary team, the juniors contacted us and said one of our kids is having his birthday on Saturday, we wanted to invite all your kids for the pizza party after,” said Chisholm. “That’s so cool because they’re going to meet other kids playing the same sport as them. To meet other kids I think will be really cool for them.”
For anyone interested in watching, games are set for Saturday at 11:30 a.m., 5:15 p.m. and 7 p.m., then Sunday at 9:15 a.m., 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Admission is free.
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