LAUREL, Md. (WUSA 9) -- Inspiring, motivating and entertaining are just some of the words you can use to describe a group of special needs hockey players. They aren't professionals making lots of money, but they are players often left out of team sports.
This weekend, the Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Maryland hosted the UCT Winter Hockey Festival. Three hundred players on 20 teams, representing ten states took part. Sam Smith has been a member of the Ice Dogs of ASHA, the American Special Hockey Association, for 14 years.
"What I like about it is the fact that I can really skate, I can hit the notes right on the ice," said Smith.
Smith has Asperger's syndrome and his mother, Sarah Sonet, was proud to watch her her son shine at this year's festival. She said as a Mom she couldn't be happier.
The 29-year-old mentors several other special needs hockey players.
"Mostly what I try to do as a trainer is I try to make sure that they're on the ice going in the right direction with their skills," said Smith. "As the head mentor I observe the [other] mentors to see if they need help with mentoring these kids."
Ann Schab is one of those kids.
"I like playing defense, I like playing offense," said Ann.
Smith and ASHA Executive Director David Lucia agree that hockey helps youngsters like Ann both on and off the ice.
"What I learned in hockey that helps me when I'm not on the ice rink ... [is that] the smiling ... the happiness, the positive attitude of moving forward ... [gives] me the confidence that I can get a job," said Smith.
ASHA's players are differently abled in a number of ways including ADHD, cerebral palsy, autism and Down syndrome.
"Success is the smile on their face, the self-esteem and self-confidence they gain from the first drop of the puck to when the buzzer goes," said Lucia.