By Alicia Doyle

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Photo by DAVID YAMAMOTO/Copyright 2014 Scripps Media, Inc.

Ice hockey program helps children, adults

with special needs

July 15, 2014

Ventura County Star

Hockey fans Dillon and Brandon Hillman have learned focus and teamwork on the ice by participating in a program designed to hone their abilities through the sport.

"My sons both live for hockey, and now I'm a hockey mom," said Magueritte Hillman, of Los Angeles.

Her sons are involved in the California Condors, a nonprofit, special-needs ice hockey program designed for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Hillman said her 26-year-old son, Brandon, has autism and developmental delays. Her son Dillon, 15, has a heart defect and cerebral palsy, among other challenges.

"When Dillon joined, he was scrunched to the floor skating on one foot. Now he skates upright," she said. "Hockey gives them something to strive for. It's different from anything they've ever done."

Her sons participated in the Condors' summer ice hockey program at Iceoplex Ice Arena in Simi Valley. They were among a dozen players, including George Boujie Jr., 14, who was diagnosed with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"We have tried everything — psychology, psychiatry, medications, specialized schooling. We've tried to exploit every possible treatment," George Boujie Sr., said of his son.

"I've seen more of a positive reaction towards this as an activity; it's more therapeutic for him than the traditional therapy," said Boujie Sr., of Encino. "He's learned teamwork, how to exploit his abilities and healthy competition — and just plain, old fun."

Such goals were cited as benefits of the program by Rita Eagle, of Marina del Rey, founder and manager of the California Condors.

"We provide a unique experience," Eagle said. "All the joys and benefits of ice hockey, a huge boost in self-esteem, friendship and teamwork." Eagle added that blocking and high-sticking are not allowed.

"Players get individual attention as well as work in groups and as a team," Eagle said. "All in a safe, supportive environment, with high coach-to-participant ratio."

Phil Kuchinka, whose son Christopher, 19, was born with mild cerebral palsy, said his son plays other sports, including soccer and basketball.

"This is another step," said Kuchinka, of Moorpark, whose son recently graduated from Moorpark High School and plans to attend Moorpark College.

"His cousin plays for the CSUN hockey team as the starting goalie, and we are big fans of the L.A. Kings. He's always had this dream of being a goalie."

Players find something in common with one another, he said.

"With these kids, a lot of times, they get so focused on dealing with their special needs and dealing with parents all the time," Kuchinka said. "So getting them involved when they're dealing with other kids gives them the understanding they're not alone."

Tim Lang, who plays hockey at the Iceoplex, recently volunteered to assist Sam Perlis, an 8-year-old diagnosed with a rare chromosome disorder.

"Sam can get angry and aggressive, and with this sport, you get the energy out of him," said Lang, of Simi Valley, adding that the sport also instills the concept of companionship. "The biggest thing is he's not afraid to fall. When you're playing hockey, that's number one."

Exiting the ice after his first hockey lesson, Sam said he wants to be a hockey player when he grows up.

"'Cause it's really fun," he said.

Michael Pereira, who began as a participant and now leads younger players, said hockey helps refine his coordination and accuracy.

"I have ADHD, so this also helps with my sociability," said Pereira, 24, of Westchester. "This helps me understand how to know how to help others."

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