Group hopes to organize adaptive sled hockey league in Lexington

ctruman@herald-leader.comFebruary 25, 2014 

  • Bluegrass Adaptive Sled Hockey League: an introduction and celebration

    When: 1-3 p.m. March 1

    Where: Lexington Ice Center, 560 Eureka Springs Drive

    For more information about hockey for the disabled: Usahockey.com

John Morris started playing hockey when he was 3 years old.

"When I was growing up playing hockey, it was a whole other family," said Morris, 24. "We'd pick on each other just like brothers, but at the end we'd have each other's back. ... It's the best sport in the world."

His love of the sport hasn't changed, despite an accident in July 2012 in which Morris fell from a third-floor balcony in California and became paralyzed from the waist down.

"When John got injured, one of the things he said was that he wanted to get back on the ice," said his mother, Deborah Morris, who writes The Fru-Gal column in the Herald-Leader and on Kentucky.com.

Fortunately, John Morris is doing just that. Cindy Jacobelli, director of athletics and recreation at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, has put Morris and other physically disabled patients into activities including golfing, skiing, trapshooting, archery and kayaking, all adapted for their needs. And now Jacobelli and John Morris want to establish the Bluegrass Adaptive Sled Hockey League in Lexington.

The group will have a celebration to introduce the new league on March 1 at the Lexington Ice Center. Not only is the introduction to adaptive sled hockey free, so is continuing in the activity. John and Deborah Morris are working on sponsorships and fundraisers, including the John Morris Golf Classic coming in October, to provide supplies for the team.

The team is meant, at least in its early stages, to be mostly a recreational team, but John Morris said he hopes that eventually it will produce some serious athletes to join a regional traveling team. He attended the 2013 USA Hockey Workshop in Madison, Wis., to become a certified coach and to officially organize a team for physically disabled participants.

Adaptive sled hockey is undeniably fun to watch. Players are aggressive, as in hockey's mainstream version, but watching adaptive sled hockey has a certain charm all its own: Seeing the players on sleds maneuvering on the ice looks like a particularly combative form of ballet.

Cincinnati, Nashville and Chicago already have teams.

The purpose of adaptive recreation is "to challenge people's thinking" about the limits placed on them by a physical disability.

"If you liked to do it before, you can still do it," Jacobelli said.

Friends with whom John Morris played hockey while growing up met at the Lexington Ice Center a year ago to give adaptive sled hockey a try. According to his mom, it was impossible, when they were all on sleds, to tell which of them were disabled. The sport is an equalizer, Deborah Morris said: Everyone starts on the same level of difficulty.

That opportunity was an introduction to the sport. This is the year that it will move forward.

Since his accident, John Morris has become stronger in his core and arms, in part because of the physical activity to which he was introduced at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital. He also works with a personal trainer.

Initially, the adaptive sled hockey team will be informal.

"For now, it's just show up and play," Jacobelli said.

Cheryl Truman: (859)231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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