By Joe Nunziata
Last year, the Pelham Memorial High School Varsity Hockey Team won the NY State Championship. The entire community created a “Circle of Support” that truly made a difference. The hope, now, is that another Circle of Support is created, this time for a different kind of championship team – The New York Raptors – who have the heart, desire, and passion to persevere, and never let anyone stop them.
The NY Raptors are a hockey team for kids and young adults with special needs designed to bring the thrill of hockey to players of all abilities. According to their President Joe Lapone, “Our program is open to children and adults with developmental and other disabilities who are unable or ineligible to participate in other organized hockey programs. The players’ disabilities do not affect their ability to play competitive hockey. We believe that all players can play hockey to the best of their abilities and enjoy the camaraderie of team sports, play quality hockey and have a great time in the process. The enthusiasm and dedication of these players are without equal.”
To help support the team, both the Pelham Civic Association and Rotary Club of the Pelhams have donated $1000 each to this program. This money enables the team to purchase valuable ice time in addition to helping with uniforms and equipment. And we’re not supporting the program, but also Pelham Manor Fire Chief Joseph Ruggiero. Joe is an active volunteer leader in this visionary program, serving as both coach and mentor to these special athletes.
Ruggiero and The Raptors’ Coaching Staff are proud recipients of Westchester County’s prestigious Rosemarie Siragusa Memorial Youth Service Award, which recognizes dedicated residents who give back to our youth in the true spirit of community service.
According to Coach Ruggiero: “It’s all about giving these challenged kids a chance to learn and play hockey like other kids who are more fortunate. It’s amazing to see how powerful their will to compete and have fun is. Quite honestly, I was surprised how quickly the kids build their skating and hockey skills. To see them compete in legitimate games is extremely gratifying! Their progress says as much about the kids as it does about our great staff.”
We’ve seen it first-hand how Joe provides encouragement and enthusiasm for these disabled players, promoting dedication and teamwork among the players and their families. This is the type of program and person Pelham whole heartedly supports.
Just recently, The NY Raptors hosted an annual tournament the Saturday after Thanksgiving (aptly named the Turkey Tournament) where 4 teams (LI Blues, CT Storm, NJ Dare Devils & NY Raptors) play 2 games each in a fundraising event but more importantly to say thank you to all the volunteers and parents that support the teams.
President Lapone added, “My son Nathan loved hockey from when he was a little boy. He began skating in mainstream leagues but his vision and physical challenges made it difficult for him to enjoy. He started as a Raptor in 2012 when he was 10, and the coaches and players helped him feel at home. He has grown as both a player and a person as a result of his involvement with the NY Raptors. When I ask him if he has a favorite memory of playing hockey he smiles from ear to ear and tells me that scoring a goal on the “Miracle Ice” at Lake Placid tournament the Raptors attended a few years ago is at the top of the list!”
This is a true “Championship Team” that all of Pelham is rooting for!
About The New York Raptors
The Raptors are one of 78 teams across the United States affiliated with The American Special Hockey Association (ASHA) and USA Hockey. ASHA proudly offers over 3,500 registered members the opportunity to safely enjoy the sport of Ice Hockey. These teams consist of special athletes whose afflictions include autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, just to name a few.
To donate and learn more about The Raptors, visit www.nyraptorshockey.com. The team is classified as a 501(c)(3) charity.