RICHLAND TOWNSHIP—Planet Ice was standing room only Saturday as the Johnstown Sitting Bulls sled hockey team hosted their annual fundraising event.
Sled hockey is a sport that allows youth with physical disabilities to play competitively. The players sit on specially designed sleds and use two sticks with picks to propel themselves down the ice.
Before the game, fans had the opportunity to take chances on baskets, autographed Penguins memoriblilia — including Brandon Sutter and James Neal jerseys and other items. They could also buy a puck for chuck-a-puck and a 50/50 ticket.
"We raised $7,500 last year and would love to raise even more this year," team president Russ White said. "All the money we raise goes into purchasing equipment and paying for team things. The parents don't pay a cent to have their child play on the Sitting Bulls."
Sean McTighe runs Planet Ice and played in the game for the first time.
"We are proud to host the event," he said. "We have this facility that offers everybody the chance to play hockey. What these kids can do impresses me to no end. I helped them with tournaments and watch what they can do with one hand steering the sled and the other controling the puck. It is very inspiring."
Somerset Area Middle School reading specialist Craig Knupp was honored that seventh grader Christa Diaz asked him to participate. He made sure to congratulate every Sitting Bulls goal scorer and the person who assisted on the play.
"This is the first year anyone has asked me to play," he said. "I love it. What a workout. I'm going to work out my abdominal muscles and upper arms more before next year's game. I'll be ready for them."
Sitting Bulls sled hockey is in its 5th year and has grown tremendously over the years.
"Since we took second place at the National Disabled Hockey Festival in March, we have had three parents call asking how they could get their child involved," White said. "Some parents who's kids only play once in a while said they will be coming more."
Greg Bartholomew of Blairsville and Amaya O'Donnell of Westmont are two of the newer members of the team.
"I have a lot of fun and made lots of friends," the 9-year-old O'Donnell said. "I asked my second grade teacher (Jamie Petrunak) to play. I didn't tease her that I wanted to win, but it was fun to beat her."
Bartholomew's grandparents Sandy and Jon said they have seen him blossom since joining the team.
"It has raised his confidence level so much," Sandy said of the 11-year-old with cerebal palsy. "It brought him out of his shell. We are so proud of him and the team. It's so important for him to have a sport of his own. He had to take pictures in to show his classmates what sled hockey was."
Brianne Wagner of Windber came out to support the team because she knew some of the kids.
"I think this is great," she said. "They have a special baseball field in Altoona and they have sled hockey here. It's nice that smaller cities are doing things like this. There are enough children to have teams like this which allows them to be kids."