Coach Duffy's all-star team

Community May 02, 2013 Flamborough Review

By Kathy Yanchus • Review Staff

The Flamborough Flyers are a dedicated bunch. Every Tuesday from November to May, through downpours and blizzards, the floor hockey athletes meet in the gym of a Greensville school.

They’re punctual, enthusiastic, happy to see coach ‘D’ or Duffy as he’s affectionately known. Duffy greets each as they arrive, with a ‘props’ or a warm smile.

Duffy has already set up nets and taped off goal creases before the team arrives. The athletes swap outdoor jackets for turquoise team jerseys. Helmets are snapped in place and they begin to warm-up. Regulation plastic sticks in hand, they effortlessly snag a circular felt disc and hurl it towards the net.

Players’ parents head for the stage, grabbing folded chairs, exchanging friendly hellos and settling in for a good time. Tonight it’s not a structured practice, but a scheduled game with a visiting team of Hamilton firefighters, a team which takes on the Flyers every year.

After a quick huddle in the corner of the gym, some words of encouragement from Duffy and a loud ‘hurrah’, everyone disperses, some to the floor, others to the bench to await their rotation.

There’s a face-off and the game is on. Throughout the evening, there is much laughter, cheers, impressive puck handling, beautiful goals, silly antics and heartwarming moments. There are no penalties, no fights, no screaming at the ref. No one cares what the score is, everyone appears oblivious to who’s winning. It’s simply all about fun and it’s hard to discern who is enjoying the game more, the Flyers or the firefighters, who start ‘chirping’ at each other to stir things up.

In the midst of the fast-paced game, the newest and youngest Flyers recruit gets hold of the puck. The play stops. With Duffy’s gentle guidance and encouragement, the young player walks towards the net and pushes the puck past the goalie, who has brilliantly played his role in this special moment. Everyone cheers. The firefighter extends his gloved hand to congratulate the little Flyer and he responds by raising his stick to make the connection.

This is the way the game is played and it has been this way for a very long time, 20 years in fact.

That’s when, as a young teacher at this very school, Spencer Valley elementary, special education teacher Duffy decided to organize a floor hockey team for developmentally challenged kids. Duffy had been involved with Special Olympics previously as a teacher at Glenwood Special Day School, which had a close connection to the organization founded to enrich the lives of those with intellectual disabilities, through sport.

Initially there were fewer than 10 kids who showed up, but word spread that, along with a host of other sports offered through the Dundas local of Special Olympics, floor hockey was being offered Tuesday nights. Over the next two decades, the team expanded to 20, players ranging in age from 9 to 45, and a full range in between, males and females, although the females are greatly outnumbered.

“For the first few years, we just had a few kids, mostly from the Flamborough/Dundas area, but we have since had players from Hamilton, and as far away as Stoney Creek,” said Duffy, 47, currently a member of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s augmentative/alternative communications team. “A lot of players, probably 70 to 80 per cent are students I’ve taught over the years, so I’ve had this neat connection with kids I taught 20 years ago, I still see them on a regular basis.”

The Flyers have undergone several evolutions before settling on an arrangement that worked best for all involved.

“When we first started, we didn’t play a lot of games. We had lots of practices, lots of scrimmages on site, just because there wasn’t a lot out there and it involved traveling, and we weren’t quite ready for that.”

After about five years together as a team, the Flyers decided to play the odd game with other Special Olympic teams and participate in one tournament a year.

“We were never super competitive at the tournament but it was always a fun experience,” said Duffy.

The Flyers’ next experiment was to join a Special Olympics (Region 5) league, which encompassed an area from Dundas to Brampton.

“My team at the time was quite young, school-aged athletes, so it was pretty onerous to be traveling when they had to get up for school the next day. It got very, very competitive to the point where our players were getting frustrated and not wanting to play.”

After a team meeting with players, coaches and parents there was overwhelming support to abandon the league.

“Then we came up with this idea to start playing community teams. It started with the firefighters, then expanded into service clubs like the Oddfellows.”

In all, the schedule includes about 12 games with opposition teams also including parents, parents’ co-workers, scouts, even a men’s’ recreational hockey team.

“It’s almost like we’ve become this little all star group and we have these groups that come back each year to play us,” said Duffy, with a grin. “It’s nice camaraderie, it’s more fun and not this tense, all-about-winning thing. It’s really worked out well for us. All the athletes really enjoy it and all the groups who come out to play us say, ‘we love it, can we come back again?’”

Duffy believes he gets more out of Tuesday nights than the players, but parents credit this goodhearted, dedicated man for enthusiastically bringing something special into their childrens’ lives. Stories about coach Duffy demonstrate just how much his players cherish him and the kindness and compassion he has shown over the years.

“It’s been a wonderful experience. There’s lots of friendship and fun and it’s good for them physically,” said Mary Oak whose son Jonathan has played 13 years for the Flyers. “You want your child to have the best life they can. Casey is so dedicated. He has a special connection with them; he knows them all so well.”

“They’re all like his own children,” added Carole Abrams, whose daughter Catherine wouldn’t miss her floor hockey nights.

Team members are not just learning hockey skills, but other abilities they need to further function in society, and they respond to Duffy’s expectations, said Oak.

Under his experienced guidance, he lets individual team members grow, doesn’t force them beyond their capabilities or comfort levels, said Abrams.

Duffy tapes off the two corners on either side of the Flyers’ net, as a safe spot for developing players so they don’t get knocked over. During the game, the goalie slides the puck to them and their job is to push it back into play.

An added benefit for the parents is the informal opportunity to discuss challenges or receive guidance from others who have “found their way” through a difficult situation, said Oak.

Some of his athletes have competed provincially, nationally and internationally in other Special Olympics sports, but the floor hockey team is purely recreational.

“The team is really about having fun, being active, there’s some skill development but probably friendship more than anything else,” said Duffy.

During every team huddle, Duffy emphasizes that fun is the prime objective of the night, not what the scoreboard reads at the end of the game.

“I truly believe that Special Olympics for someone who has a developmental disability is an opportunity to showcase their talent,” said Duffy. “Those talents might be athletic talents on the floor during the game, but for some of them it’s not about that, it’s about their enthusiasm, it’s about their friendship, it’s about just brightening other peoples’ day by coming in and smiling and being happy. It’s such fun to see them every year and have that connection.”

Once the Flyers’ 20th season is over, the team will celebrate with their first-ever banquet.

Come the fall, the Tuesday after Halloween to be precise, they will gather again in this ordinary gym, in this small school in the midst of rural Flamborough, to begin another season.

“It’s what we do,” says the coach.

Coach Duffy's all-star team

Community May 02, 2013 Flamborough Review

By Kathy Yanchus • Review Staff

The Flamborough Flyers are a dedicated bunch. Every Tuesday from November to May, through downpours and blizzards, the floor hockey athletes meet in the gym of a Greensville school.

They’re punctual, enthusiastic, happy to see coach ‘D’ or Duffy as he’s affectionately known. Duffy greets each as they arrive, with a ‘props’ or a warm smile.

Duffy has already set up nets and taped off goal creases before the team arrives. The athletes swap outdoor jackets for turquoise team jerseys. Helmets are snapped in place and they begin to warm-up. Regulation plastic sticks in hand, they effortlessly snag a circular felt disc and hurl it towards the net.

Players’ parents head for the stage, grabbing folded chairs, exchanging friendly hellos and settling in for a good time. Tonight it’s not a structured practice, but a scheduled game with a visiting team of Hamilton firefighters, a team which takes on the Flyers every year.

After a quick huddle in the corner of the gym, some words of encouragement from Duffy and a loud ‘hurrah’, everyone disperses, some to the floor, others to the bench to await their rotation.

There’s a face-off and the game is on. Throughout the evening, there is much laughter, cheers, impressive puck handling, beautiful goals, silly antics and heartwarming moments. There are no penalties, no fights, no screaming at the ref. No one cares what the score is, everyone appears oblivious to who’s winning. It’s simply all about fun and it’s hard to discern who is enjoying the game more, the Flyers or the firefighters, who start ‘chirping’ at each other to stir things up.

In the midst of the fast-paced game, the newest and youngest Flyers recruit gets hold of the puck. The play stops. With Duffy’s gentle guidance and encouragement, the young player walks towards the net and pushes the puck past the goalie, who has brilliantly played his role in this special moment. Everyone cheers. The firefighter extends his gloved hand to congratulate the little Flyer and he responds by raising his stick to make the connection.

This is the way the game is played and it has been this way for a very long time, 20 years in fact.

That’s when, as a young teacher at this very school, Spencer Valley elementary, special education teacher Duffy decided to organize a floor hockey team for developmentally challenged kids. Duffy had been involved with Special Olympics previously as a teacher at Glenwood Special Day School, which had a close connection to the organization founded to enrich the lives of those with intellectual disabilities, through sport.

Initially there were fewer than 10 kids who showed up, but word spread that, along with a host of other sports offered through the Dundas local of Special Olympics, floor hockey was being offered Tuesday nights. Over the next two decades, the team expanded to 20, players ranging in age from 9 to 45, and a full range in between, males and females, although the females are greatly outnumbered.

“For the first few years, we just had a few kids, mostly from the Flamborough/Dundas area, but we have since had players from Hamilton, and as far away as Stoney Creek,” said Duffy, 47, currently a member of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s augmentative/alternative communications team. “A lot of players, probably 70 to 80 per cent are students I’ve taught over the years, so I’ve had this neat connection with kids I taught 20 years ago, I still see them on a regular basis.”

The Flyers have undergone several evolutions before settling on an arrangement that worked best for all involved.

“When we first started, we didn’t play a lot of games. We had lots of practices, lots of scrimmages on site, just because there wasn’t a lot out there and it involved traveling, and we weren’t quite ready for that.”

After about five years together as a team, the Flyers decided to play the odd game with other Special Olympic teams and participate in one tournament a year.

“We were never super competitive at the tournament but it was always a fun experience,” said Duffy.

The Flyers’ next experiment was to join a Special Olympics (Region 5) league, which encompassed an area from Dundas to Brampton.

“My team at the time was quite young, school-aged athletes, so it was pretty onerous to be traveling when they had to get up for school the next day. It got very, very competitive to the point where our players were getting frustrated and not wanting to play.”

After a team meeting with players, coaches and parents there was overwhelming support to abandon the league.

“Then we came up with this idea to start playing community teams. It started with the firefighters, then expanded into service clubs like the Oddfellows.”

In all, the schedule includes about 12 games with opposition teams also including parents, parents’ co-workers, scouts, even a men’s’ recreational hockey team.

“It’s almost like we’ve become this little all star group and we have these groups that come back each year to play us,” said Duffy, with a grin. “It’s nice camaraderie, it’s more fun and not this tense, all-about-winning thing. It’s really worked out well for us. All the athletes really enjoy it and all the groups who come out to play us say, ‘we love it, can we come back again?’”

Duffy believes he gets more out of Tuesday nights than the players, but parents credit this goodhearted, dedicated man for enthusiastically bringing something special into their childrens’ lives. Stories about coach Duffy demonstrate just how much his players cherish him and the kindness and compassion he has shown over the years.

“It’s been a wonderful experience. There’s lots of friendship and fun and it’s good for them physically,” said Mary Oak whose son Jonathan has played 13 years for the Flyers. “You want your child to have the best life they can. Casey is so dedicated. He has a special connection with them; he knows them all so well.”

“They’re all like his own children,” added Carole Abrams, whose daughter Catherine wouldn’t miss her floor hockey nights.

Team members are not just learning hockey skills, but other abilities they need to further function in society, and they respond to Duffy’s expectations, said Oak.

Under his experienced guidance, he lets individual team members grow, doesn’t force them beyond their capabilities or comfort levels, said Abrams.

Duffy tapes off the two corners on either side of the Flyers’ net, as a safe spot for developing players so they don’t get knocked over. During the game, the goalie slides the puck to them and their job is to push it back into play.

An added benefit for the parents is the informal opportunity to discuss challenges or receive guidance from others who have “found their way” through a difficult situation, said Oak.

Some of his athletes have competed provincially, nationally and internationally in other Special Olympics sports, but the floor hockey team is purely recreational.

“The team is really about having fun, being active, there’s some skill development but probably friendship more than anything else,” said Duffy.

During every team huddle, Duffy emphasizes that fun is the prime objective of the night, not what the scoreboard reads at the end of the game.

“I truly believe that Special Olympics for someone who has a developmental disability is an opportunity to showcase their talent,” said Duffy. “Those talents might be athletic talents on the floor during the game, but for some of them it’s not about that, it’s about their enthusiasm, it’s about their friendship, it’s about just brightening other peoples’ day by coming in and smiling and being happy. It’s such fun to see them every year and have that connection.”

Once the Flyers’ 20th season is over, the team will celebrate with their first-ever banquet.

Come the fall, the Tuesday after Halloween to be precise, they will gather again in this ordinary gym, in this small school in the midst of rural Flamborough, to begin another season.

“It’s what we do,” says the coach.

Coach Duffy's all-star team

Community May 02, 2013 Flamborough Review

By Kathy Yanchus • Review Staff

The Flamborough Flyers are a dedicated bunch. Every Tuesday from November to May, through downpours and blizzards, the floor hockey athletes meet in the gym of a Greensville school.

They’re punctual, enthusiastic, happy to see coach ‘D’ or Duffy as he’s affectionately known. Duffy greets each as they arrive, with a ‘props’ or a warm smile.

Duffy has already set up nets and taped off goal creases before the team arrives. The athletes swap outdoor jackets for turquoise team jerseys. Helmets are snapped in place and they begin to warm-up. Regulation plastic sticks in hand, they effortlessly snag a circular felt disc and hurl it towards the net.

Players’ parents head for the stage, grabbing folded chairs, exchanging friendly hellos and settling in for a good time. Tonight it’s not a structured practice, but a scheduled game with a visiting team of Hamilton firefighters, a team which takes on the Flyers every year.

After a quick huddle in the corner of the gym, some words of encouragement from Duffy and a loud ‘hurrah’, everyone disperses, some to the floor, others to the bench to await their rotation.

There’s a face-off and the game is on. Throughout the evening, there is much laughter, cheers, impressive puck handling, beautiful goals, silly antics and heartwarming moments. There are no penalties, no fights, no screaming at the ref. No one cares what the score is, everyone appears oblivious to who’s winning. It’s simply all about fun and it’s hard to discern who is enjoying the game more, the Flyers or the firefighters, who start ‘chirping’ at each other to stir things up.

In the midst of the fast-paced game, the newest and youngest Flyers recruit gets hold of the puck. The play stops. With Duffy’s gentle guidance and encouragement, the young player walks towards the net and pushes the puck past the goalie, who has brilliantly played his role in this special moment. Everyone cheers. The firefighter extends his gloved hand to congratulate the little Flyer and he responds by raising his stick to make the connection.

This is the way the game is played and it has been this way for a very long time, 20 years in fact.

That’s when, as a young teacher at this very school, Spencer Valley elementary, special education teacher Duffy decided to organize a floor hockey team for developmentally challenged kids. Duffy had been involved with Special Olympics previously as a teacher at Glenwood Special Day School, which had a close connection to the organization founded to enrich the lives of those with intellectual disabilities, through sport.

Initially there were fewer than 10 kids who showed up, but word spread that, along with a host of other sports offered through the Dundas local of Special Olympics, floor hockey was being offered Tuesday nights. Over the next two decades, the team expanded to 20, players ranging in age from 9 to 45, and a full range in between, males and females, although the females are greatly outnumbered.

“For the first few years, we just had a few kids, mostly from the Flamborough/Dundas area, but we have since had players from Hamilton, and as far away as Stoney Creek,” said Duffy, 47, currently a member of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s augmentative/alternative communications team. “A lot of players, probably 70 to 80 per cent are students I’ve taught over the years, so I’ve had this neat connection with kids I taught 20 years ago, I still see them on a regular basis.”

The Flyers have undergone several evolutions before settling on an arrangement that worked best for all involved.

“When we first started, we didn’t play a lot of games. We had lots of practices, lots of scrimmages on site, just because there wasn’t a lot out there and it involved traveling, and we weren’t quite ready for that.”

After about five years together as a team, the Flyers decided to play the odd game with other Special Olympic teams and participate in one tournament a year.

“We were never super competitive at the tournament but it was always a fun experience,” said Duffy.

The Flyers’ next experiment was to join a Special Olympics (Region 5) league, which encompassed an area from Dundas to Brampton.

“My team at the time was quite young, school-aged athletes, so it was pretty onerous to be traveling when they had to get up for school the next day. It got very, very competitive to the point where our players were getting frustrated and not wanting to play.”

After a team meeting with players, coaches and parents there was overwhelming support to abandon the league.

“Then we came up with this idea to start playing community teams. It started with the firefighters, then expanded into service clubs like the Oddfellows.”

In all, the schedule includes about 12 games with opposition teams also including parents, parents’ co-workers, scouts, even a men’s’ recreational hockey team.

“It’s almost like we’ve become this little all star group and we have these groups that come back each year to play us,” said Duffy, with a grin. “It’s nice camaraderie, it’s more fun and not this tense, all-about-winning thing. It’s really worked out well for us. All the athletes really enjoy it and all the groups who come out to play us say, ‘we love it, can we come back again?’”

Duffy believes he gets more out of Tuesday nights than the players, but parents credit this goodhearted, dedicated man for enthusiastically bringing something special into their childrens’ lives. Stories about coach Duffy demonstrate just how much his players cherish him and the kindness and compassion he has shown over the years.

“It’s been a wonderful experience. There’s lots of friendship and fun and it’s good for them physically,” said Mary Oak whose son Jonathan has played 13 years for the Flyers. “You want your child to have the best life they can. Casey is so dedicated. He has a special connection with them; he knows them all so well.”

“They’re all like his own children,” added Carole Abrams, whose daughter Catherine wouldn’t miss her floor hockey nights.

Team members are not just learning hockey skills, but other abilities they need to further function in society, and they respond to Duffy’s expectations, said Oak.

Under his experienced guidance, he lets individual team members grow, doesn’t force them beyond their capabilities or comfort levels, said Abrams.

Duffy tapes off the two corners on either side of the Flyers’ net, as a safe spot for developing players so they don’t get knocked over. During the game, the goalie slides the puck to them and their job is to push it back into play.

An added benefit for the parents is the informal opportunity to discuss challenges or receive guidance from others who have “found their way” through a difficult situation, said Oak.

Some of his athletes have competed provincially, nationally and internationally in other Special Olympics sports, but the floor hockey team is purely recreational.

“The team is really about having fun, being active, there’s some skill development but probably friendship more than anything else,” said Duffy.

During every team huddle, Duffy emphasizes that fun is the prime objective of the night, not what the scoreboard reads at the end of the game.

“I truly believe that Special Olympics for someone who has a developmental disability is an opportunity to showcase their talent,” said Duffy. “Those talents might be athletic talents on the floor during the game, but for some of them it’s not about that, it’s about their enthusiasm, it’s about their friendship, it’s about just brightening other peoples’ day by coming in and smiling and being happy. It’s such fun to see them every year and have that connection.”

Once the Flyers’ 20th season is over, the team will celebrate with their first-ever banquet.

Come the fall, the Tuesday after Halloween to be precise, they will gather again in this ordinary gym, in this small school in the midst of rural Flamborough, to begin another season.

“It’s what we do,” says the coach.