In connection with the Mentor Ice Arena, Special Sports, Inc. is now adding ice skating to its list of programs for special needs children.
Special Sports, a mentor-based nonprofit that began with a soccer camp in 2011, provides adaptive sports programs for special needs children ages 5 to 20, regardless of diagnosis. Children are taught basic basketball, soccer, soccer and now ice skating fundamentals, as well as positive interactions with their peers.
Special Sports President Mindy Bakos said a large fan base and 50 participating families from three different counties made partnering with Mentor Ice Arena a no-brainer.
“A lot of these families here participate in special sports and we’ve talked about the special skate program and how (the coronavirus) has hit,” Bakos said at a recent special needs skate session at the arena at 8600 Munson Road. where 15 children were present. “(Mentor Ice) have not run the program because of (the coronavirus) and enrollment has been declining. These guys (families) said, ‘Is there a way to bring it back?’ I called Colleen and she didn’t hesitate.”
Colleen Thomas, Mentor Ice Arena’s program director, said the families who took their kids to the last skate session still remember when they first came.
“They love it. We’re going to start again in the fall and do a seven-week streak, which is going to be a steady, ongoing thing,” Thomas said. “They (Special Sports) are doing other things in the summer, so we’re not going to do that.”
Since launching in 2011, Special Sports has attracted many new families, Bakos said.
“A lot of families that came would email or text me and say, ‘I really want to do this, but my kid has never been on ice.’ I say, ‘Don’t worry. We got you’” Bakos said. “Colleen has all the gear, we have volunteers, NDCL hockey here and mentor hockey so we reach out to local hockey clubs and give them community service hours.”
Bakos is still receiving messages from prospects.
“We have a huge social media presence,” Bakos said. “I posted one of our videos on TikTok and our Facebook, and then all these families messaged me, ‘When can I come? How do I sign up?’ We are full, but it starts again from September. We have the space but as this is our first time partnering we weren’t sure what the response would be so we kept it small.”
“We’re trying to have a one-to-one ratio, but there are some who don’t even need that much help and a few who need extra help, so that’s our goal,” Thomas reiterated.
Bakos said that one of her sons, Vince, is the reason she started Special Sports.
“I have two boys. Joey is 17 and Vince is 18,” she recalled. “Joey played club football and we watched at the top. Vince is nonverbal so he patted his chest and pointed. He walked down the stairs, lined up with Joey’s team, and tried to sneak onto the soccer field. That’s why we started football and I never thought we’d do it again.”
At the time Special Sports was formed, there weren’t many special needs programs, Bakos said.
“A lot of programs are popping up now, but there didn’t seem to be anything that suited his (Vince’s) needs,” she said. “We had 30 children in our first camp, so there is a need. We expanded into basketball, soccer, pool parties and social events. We are open year round and have many programs for families to choose from. They might not want to play soccer but want to come ice skating, so that’s another option we’re adding.”
Bakos hopes Special Sports will help children with special needs feel like they belong to a team.
“So many of them are watching. Our slogan doesn’t sit on the sidelines anymore and I really believe in that,” she said. “Ice skating is also translated here. It’s all about possibilities.”
The next ice skating session starts on September 13th and lasts for seven weeks at the Mentor Ice Arena. To register, email Special Sports at firstname.lastname@example.org.