Madison Ice Arena has become an unofficial hub for sledge hockey in the Midwest
Too often, Andrea Chaffee, Sales and Marketing Manager of Madison Ice Inc., hears of people with disabilities being told they can’t participate. On the other hand, Madison Ice Arena offers programs that allow everyone to participate, regardless of their mobility.
Madison Ice Arena first offered an adaptive learn-to-skate course in 2008. Since then, the arena has undergone changes to allow for more adaptive opportunities, including a $1.2 million renovation dollars in 2016 to make the arena ADA compliant, which included redesigning the youth locker rooms, lobby, public restrooms, and parking lot to add more accessible spaces.
Madison Ice Arena is home to three accessible hockey teams: two luge teams for people with physical disabilities — Wisconsin Skeeters for youth and Wisconsin Sting for adults — and a special hockey team, the Timberwolves, for youth or adults with cognitive impairment.
“He gives [people with disabilities] an opportunity to be part of a team, which can help them build self-esteem, confidence and create friendships,” says Chaffee. “It’s about inclusion, not being excluded because of your cognitive or physical disability. We don’t want to leave any child or adult behind.
Due to renovations to the Madison Ice Arena, it is now an official practice site for the U.S. National Sledge Hockey Team and an unofficial hub for sledge hockey in the Midwest. The national team held practices and tryouts for the 2022 Paralympic Games at the arena in October. The arena also hosts an annual hockey festival in October with teams from across the Midwest — Chaffee says it’s the only festival like this in the state.
Luke Russell, who plays on the Sting, says the program has had a huge positive impact on him. He has been playing sports, especially wheelchair basketball, since he was 6 or 7 years old. Although he spends a lot of time in rinks with four of his five siblings playing hockey, he didn’t learn about sledge hockey until college.
“It’s a good way to make friends with other people with disabilities and share experiences, and it’s obviously a good way to stay in shape,” says Russell.
Russell says while the Skeeters youth team have a lot of players, the Sting has recently struggled to field a full squad eligible to play in tournaments. He says cost can be a huge factor in signing up for a sledge hockey team — costs for sleds alone can range from $750 to $4,000 or more — but that Madison Ice Arena has sleds and equipment that people can use for free.
“[The sled hockey program] is especially important for some people with disabilities who can sometimes feel alienated or alone, who feel like few people can connect with them,” says Russell. “No one here is alone in their struggles.”
Learn more about adaptive sports in the Madison area here.
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