While they spend many afternoons at the rink practicing hockey, Mahoning Valley Phantom players spend many mornings at the rink giving back to the community by helping escort local special needs students around the ice.
Ellen Weiss, a teacher from the Fairhaven School, says the experience not only allows the kids to have a little bit of fun away from the classroom, but it also develops skills that are sometimes difficult to learn any other way.
“This is one of the many things we do to give them confidence and give them a social and recreational experience with their peers,” explained Weiss. “The players treat them very well and are very friendly. It has always been a wonderful experience and everyone here has been very accommodating. We plan on coming back.”
“All fear is left out at the window,” said Kelly Caraway, also a teacher at the Fairhaven School. “They put those ice skates on and they are right out there. Any other time, they are usually scared to do things, but here they just love it and look forward to it.”
The benefits are two-sided, however, as the players - some as young as 17 - are developing by learning how important it is to give back to those who are less fortunate.
“Hopefully, it creates some special moments for these young kids that normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to skate and be on the ice with aspiring stars,” said Phantoms coach-GM Bob Mainhardt.
“A big part of the (Phantoms) organization is the community. It’s very important to us, and it is very important to [the players], for their development, to recognize the community and make sure they are always giving back.”
In addition to the Fairhaven School, the Phantoms host groups from Canfield Special Needs, Austintown Middle School and the Mahoning County Board of MRDD to help enrich the lives of area youth.
For more information about bringing your group into the Ice Zone, contact Rocky Russo at (330) 965-1423.