York Polar Bears host first-ever tournament for ice hockey teams and players with special needs

YORK, Pa. -- A first-ever ice hockey tournament for players with special needs brings children from all across the region to York for two days of games.

Breaking ice and breaking stigmas at York Ice Arena.

“I play ice hockey. I can shoot a goal!" said Leah Cunningham, a defensive player for the Polar Bears. Cunningham has down syndrome; still, she is swift on her skates.

The York Polar Bears is an ice hockey team made up of kids who face different challenges.

“We just like to say they’re children with different hurdles in the world," said Rich Garrison, CEO and coach for the Polar Bears.

“Everyone’s different. There’s a lot of diversity, and you meet new people," said Sophia Schwartz, the goalie for the team. Schwartz has vision impairment, but it doesn't stop her from blocking goals.

The players look forward to ice time, typically practicing once a week and then playing a team the next day.

For players like Cunningham, getting out on the ice gives her a chance to shine and something to look forward to, each and every week.

“They gain a lot of confidence. They have a lot of fun… they just feel like they’re a part of something," said Krista Cunningham, Leah's mother.

And now, a first-ever, two day tournament in York so players can play multiple teams while staying close to home.

“Playing different teams, different kids, and a different atmosphere cause when you play a tournament, it is fast-paced, compared to a game," said Garrison.

"To have the organizations, to have the coaches, come out and teach our kids, and allow them to be a part of a typical world, a typical sport.. it’s a lot of fun for them, its a lot of fun to watch it," added Krista Cunningham.

Learning to be play makers who aren’t defined by a zone.

"We do push against the envelop to get them to overcome the hurdles, and that’s what it’s all about," added Garrison.

To become a volunteer, sign up your child, or to donate, visit the Polar Bears website  or contact the coach.