By Anisah Abdullah and Samantha Salomon
The Commack Sharks, one of Special Olympics New York’s floor hockey teams from Long Island, is kicking off its winter season with the Champions Challenge Super Regional Floor Hockey Tournament on Nov. 13 at Nassau Community College (NCC).
Special Olympics New York, a non-profit organization established in 1969, serves Long Island by offering nearly 7,000 athletes with disabilities the opportunity to participate in year-round sports training and athletic competition in 22 of the 28 Olympic sports.
Floor hockey tournaments have been held by Special Olympics New York for the past six years, starting the tradition at Suffolk County Community College in 2010. This is the second year in a row that Special Olympics New York athletes will play the sport at NCC.
“The Champions Challenge floor hockey tournament that’s coming up this coming weekend is just a wonderful opportunity for our athletes to compete against their peers and show the public what they have to offer,” Diane Colonna, regional director of the organization, said.
Eleven teams from Long Island, New York City and Hudson Valley will compete in the upcoming tournament. Over 140 athletes, no younger than eight years-old, will participate in either the team games or individual skill events, which take place each winter season.
To prepare for this tournament, the Commack Sharks have been practicing since mid-October, meeting every Tuesday night, Joe Amadeo, a coach for the Commack Sharks and parent of a Special Olympics athlete, said.
“We trained hard at Commack Middle School,” Daniel Fletcher, 28-year-old Special Olympics New York athlete and co-captain of the Commack Sharks, said. “We’re passing, we have drills every Tuesday night. It’s not too easy [but] we have coaches.”
However, the team did not have the opportunity to practice this Tuesday because the election polls were open at Commack Middle School. Although the tournament is only five days away, coaches said that losing their final opportunity to practice before the big game will not be detrimental.
“We like to always practice before a tournament so we get everything a little more cohesive, but schools are hard to get,” Amadeo, said. “Our team has been together a while. We don’t think it’s a problem that we miss a practice before the tournament. They’re gonna be as good as they’re gonna be.”
“The Special Olympics prides itself on providing true, authentic sports training and competitions,” Tim Flynn, the organization’s director of programs, said.
The Long Island region of Special Olympics New York brings in certified sports officials to train its athletes, Flynn said. The officials practice with them for upcoming tournaments and help them better understand the rules of the games.
The dedication of the athletes, coaches and volunteers is what make the organization’s events successful. About 30 volunteers from business sponsors and NCC will help with the upcoming floor hockey tournament, and the local Girl Scouts troop will participate in the opening ceremony.
“It’s an organization that makes you feel like a family, which is nice,” Warren Fletcher, a coach for the Commack Sharks and father of Daniel Fletcher, said.
Whether or not the sport is in season, athletes remain social and active throughout the year by participating in recreational practices such as basketball and bowling.
After the Nov. 13 tournament, Long Island teams will start practicing for the other floor hockey competitions that make up the remainder of this winter season. The upcoming events will be held at South Side High School in Rockville Centre on Dec. 3, the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan on Dec. 10, and Huntington High School in January.