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After Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships, the Owensboro Rampage will Continue to Grow Their Hockey Heroes Program

By Tom Robinson, 03/22/24, 3:30PM MDT


The Kentucky-based team holds monthly hockey sessions that allows athletes with disabilities to get on the ice.

The Owensboro Rampage have spent the 2023-24 season sharing their love of hockey.

Beginning in August, the team launched Hockey Heroes in their Kentucky city. The program has taught hockey to children and young adults with a variety of intellectual and physical disabilities.

The team is currently participating in the 2024 Chipotle-USA Hockey High School Division II National Championships in West Chester, Pennsylvania, but one of the things coach Chad Barber is looking forward to upon the team’s return home is using the offseason to be able to continue expanding Hockey Heroes.

“With the high school season over, we’re going to go two times a month,” said Barber, whose goal after conducting monthly sessions since late last summer is to eventually have a Hockey Heroes team in Owensboro.

For years, Barber wondered why there wasn’t a program in the area to help kids with disabilities get on the ice. So, Barber and his wife, Shelley, took the initiative to bring a program like that to life. 

Barber told his high school players that he would like them to help because “I think it will be good for you in more ways than one.

The players, Barber said, were awestruck at first because it was difficult to know what to expect.

“Our first group was about 15,” he said. “The high schoolers came out there and really didn’t know what to do, but they started bonding.”

In opening the program to everyone from the start, the Rampage faced the dilemma of finding ways to work with Down syndrome athletes, those with various sensory issues and some with physical challenges all at the same time. 

One-on-one teaching situations developed with the players, while Barber and other volunteers dealt with individual needs. They worked with athletes ranging from 6 years old to those in their 30s.

The program has now served more than 40 athletes, with more than 20 at most of the monthly sessions and newcomers continuing to join in.

“You can’t go out there and teach everybody the same thing,” Barber said. “There is so much different that you are dealing with. You have to break into smaller groups.”

Those with similar ages and abilities can work together, but specialized tasks are necessary for some.

“It’s not hard,” Barber said. “You just have to want to do it and have fun with it. I don’t have any lack of volunteers for it.”

Players often first need to learn to skate, then they progress to shooting, passing and other skills. Specific parts of the game of hockey, such as one-on-one battles in the corner, are being introduced, too. Some players have shown an interest and have begun trying on goalie equipment and learning about the specifics of that position.

Barber originally did not know what to expect or how many sessions the group would run. After a few sessions, the process has smoothed itself out. 

“Now, everybody has their own sticks and has their own bags, so it runs a lot better,” he said. “The first couple of times, there were growing pains, trying to figure out exactly what we need to do.

“We didn’t know what we were doing either, but we just tried. We made it work.”

Barber takes pride in the growth of the program and encourages other schools to try to create something similar. The Owensboro Hockey Heroes have added more sleds to be able to accommodate more athletes and have benefited from community support to make it a free offering. 

Among the program’s success stories are two athletes from Hockey Heroes progressing to the point of being able to join the house league at the rink where they recently each scored their first goal.

Many other goals have been created and fulfilled in a special season that has included the Rampage having a new group of supporters there to cheer them on, offering postgame fist bumps after they captured a state championship on their home rink to earn their trip to this year’s Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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