Christopher Marx of Perry Township plays center or wing. Lake Township resident Keegan O’Reilly is a forward. Neither boy has the use of his legs, but sled hockey has made it possible for both to play what Keegan’s dad describes as “a very demanding physical sport, full checking and a lot of hitting.” How do they do it? With boundless enthusiasm.
Christopher Marx of Perry Township plays center or wing. Lake Township resident Keegan O’Reilly is a forward.
Neither boy has the use of his legs, but sled hockey has made it possible for both to play what Keegan’s dad describes as “a very demanding physical sport, full checking and a lot of hitting.”
How do they do it? With boundless enthusiasm.
Christopher, 11, was born with spina bifida and is wheelchair-bound when not on the ice. Keegan, 13, became paralyzed from the chest down when an arteriovenous malformation blocked blood flow to his spine.
Both families learned about the sport from physical therapists or friends. Keegan, an honor student at North Canton Middle School, is in his third season with the Cleveland Mighty Barons. This is Christopher’s second year with the team. He is a fifth-grader at Pfeiffer Intermediate School.
When Dan and Kim O’Reilly heard sled hockey described, they drove to Cleveland to watch a practice. Their son, Dan said, “jumped right in.”
“You start off with a sled frame on two skate blades that the puck can pass through, and then the players get two hockey sticks with picks on them. They use them to move the sled and to play. Most of them are pretty good with either stick,” said Dan, who coaches the Barons’ junior team, which recently merged with the Wooster Wildcats team.
Once a week, players — girls and boys — practice either in Wooster or Parma. “At first, the blades are set farther apart for balance, but as the player gets more advanced, the blades are closer so they can turn better, Dan said.”
Two weeks ago in Toronto, the Barons won the Cruisers Cup over seven other teams. With the season beginning in August with a three-day camp, there is no stopping them until the National Disabled Festival in April, this year in Dallas. Grand Rapids, Fort Wayne, Columbus and London, Ontario, are on the schedule.
On Nov. 18, as a fundraiser, Keegan and Christopher’s team played the Hoover High School hockey team. Dan said the money pays for sleds and ice time.
Crystal and Robert Marx, Christopher’s parents, attend all the tournaments.
“He is very enthusiastic, very outgoing, very talkative,” said Crystal, describing her son. “And his self-esteem has increased and he is physically more athletic, stronger than ever. It’s pretty awesome.”
Their parents agree that Keegan and Christopher are polar opposites in personality, but enjoy the sport and the team camaraderie equally.
“Keegan’s quiet, soft-spoken,” Dan said. “His intelligence is way up there, but he doesn’t speak unless he has to.”
The sport continues to grow, Dan said, and an adult team was started last year to develop a venue for players as they mature.
Page 2 of 2 - “It’s really starting to take off, because we’re getting a lot of veterans from Iraq coming out of San Antonio (rehabilitation) who want to play,” he explained.
Anyone interested in playing for or supporting the team can contact Dan O’Reilly by visiting www.ohiosledhockey.org.