DeMatha hockey player mentors special needs athletes

LAUREL, Md. (WUSA 9) -- DeMatha versus Gonzaga: in the rink, they're two of the top high school hockey teams in the DMV, but off the ice, members of the two rivals can be found taking hockey from competition to volunteer teaching.

Every week during hockey season, DeMatha forward Dylan Harrington mentors special needs players at Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Maryland. He's been doing it for four years.

"I came out here not knowing it was special needs kids so the first day I was like: 'What is going on?' But over time I have grown to appreciate it," said Dylan.

Dylan became a lead mentor for the Washington Ice Dogs three years ago and increased Dematha's involvement to a larger, more organized scale. The experience also helped Dylan blossom.

"He was very quiet when he first started high school," said Dylan's dad Brian Harrington. "I think the program has helped him come out of his shell. [It's] helped him become a more vocal, confident independent person."

The 17-year-old mentored for school community service hours, but they were over a long time ago. He's stayed with the program because he loves it.

"It gives you a really nice feeling, just that you can help other kids who don't know about hockey or need help," said Dylan.

The Ice Dogs are one of four special needs programs in the Washington/Baltimore area.

They all have the same goals: to give mentees some skills and some confidence and help mentors show others that special needs hockey players are like everybody else.

"They love hockey, they love people, I think they love people more than the average person does, they're always smiling, always happy," said Dylan, and he isn't the first and won't be the last to be affected by mentoring special needs players.

His assistant coach at DeMatha, Brian Plant, also mentored in high school.

"I definitely got something out of it, it was like coaching for the first time so I got a lot of coaching experience out of it which I now use," said Plant. "I love every kid out here ... it's really changed me."

The program has helped Dylan decide a career path. He wants to major in psychology and special needs education after graduation.

Dylan works with the Washington Ice Dogs, but there are other teams for special needs players: the Montgomery County Cheetahs, the NOVA Cool Cats and the Baltimore Saints are all part of the American Special Needs Hockey Association.


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