The Falcons sled-hockey team members felt like the national champions they are during Sunday afternoon’s flash-mobbed “The Sleds are Coming” benefit game at Lake Forest College, Feb. 9.
A concerted effort to pack the stands in the college’s ice arena for the fourth annual event gave team members an afternoon to remember.
“This was amazing,” said captain Jake Broderick, a six-year Falcons member. “It made us feel like a real hockey team.”
“We played in the nationals a couple of times already and there’s never a crowd this big,” said Ben Chileski, a three-year member. “It’s much better. I love it.”
Team managers and volunteers Connie Cardenas of Waukegan and Julie Davis of Lake Forest rallied the community from young hockey players to Lake Forest College athletes to cheer on the inter-squad competition. The Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association sled hockey team was split into two squads — the red team and the white team — for the benefit.
Hundreds of fans arrived flash-mob style wearing red or white, some carrying hand-lettered signs for individual players and twirling rally towels, and all packing a walloping cheer factor. The flash mob was an idea Cardenas saw on Youtube about a small town whose hockey team never drew a crowd. She shared her idea with Davis who has the local ties to pull it off.
“We don’t have a big turnout like in high school sports,” Cardenas said of the GLASA teams.
Sunday’s turnout meant a lot to the organizers
“This is fantastic,” Davis said. “I’m so happy for these kids who don’t usually get a crowd beyond their parents. This was very special for them.”
The audience members kept the cheers going throughout the four 15-minute periods, executing bleacher waves, organized chants and general enthusiasm for the athletes on the ice.
Tiffany Melchiorre, of Grayslake, has participated as a GLASA athlete for the past 10 years. Sunday’s crowd was a first for the seasoned GLASA participant.
“This is the largest this fundraiser has ever been,” she said. “I think this is amazing.”
Crowd member Lindsey Good has competed in wheelchair basketball, track-and-field and other adaptive sports growing up in North Carolina.
“I have never seen this big of a crowd at a local adaptive sports event,” she said.
Much support came from Lake Forest College and Lake Forest High School, including the high school’s poms dance team, which split up to lend support to each on-ice sled-hockey team.
“We’re so happy they asked us and so excited to be here to support the teams,” high school sophomore Alayna Steindl said.
“I hope we can come back next year,” high school freshman Kate Dempsey said.
George Vidas, 19, a sophomore football player at Lake Forest College, was decked out in a red T-shirt and twirled a red rally towel.
“It’s a great event to have on campus and it’s great to show support for the cause,” Vidas said.
Proceeds from the event benefit sled hockey and other adaptive athletic programs at GLASA.
This year’s event honored 2001 Lake Forest College graduate J.J. O’Connor, who broke his neck playing able-bodied hockey in hgh school and has since supported sled hockey throughout the United States and serves as chair of USA Hockey’s Disabled Section. O’Connor is the captain of GLASA’s power soccer team.
“I love the sport of hockey,” O’Connor said. “My whole goal as volunteer is to get more players out there enjoying the game, regardless of what your ability is. To come back and see the stands full of students from Lake Forest College cheering on these kids with disabilities is surreal. It’s a memory I’ll always have.”