Emperors skate for success on and off ice


Claire Kleffman

The Pittsburgh Emperors, a local all-inclusive hockey team in the American Special Hockey Association, includes members of all ages.

Gabriela Bosonetto, North Campus Editor

“It is more than hockey,” says John Stevenson of the Pittsburgh Emperors. The Emperors is an all-inclusive hockey team that serves children and with intellectual or developmental disabilities.  Part of the American Special Hockey Association, or ASHA, this team is one of three in the region of Pittsburgh, along with the Pittsburgh Royals and the Steel City Icebergs, and one of over 80 nationwide.

Founded on September 22, 2014, the Emperors have had over 200 players in their five seasons of operating.  To Stevenson and his wife Tracey, the co-founders of the organization, all-inclusive means that “everybody gets to skate.” Regardless of gender, skill level, or age, the team makes sure that each player has their moment on the ice.  This policy even extends to the tournaments they attend: Everyone who wants to skate gets to.

“Some of the kids don’t ever get the chance to participate in regular sports,” says Mrs. Stevenson. Developmental delays, autism, Down syndrome, and traumatic brain injures all prevent them from participating on “typical” teams. In some cases, after playing for the Emperors, team members went on to participate in “typical” teams.

Not only does being on the team mean that each child learns ice hockey, it also means that they have a safe, supportive place to learn life skills. “They learn not just hockey, but they learn how to take direction from other adults.” says Mrs. Stevenson. “One of the most valuable lessons that being on the team imparts on individuals is that they are capable of more than they or society thinks they are. They [have] learned things that autistic kids are never supposed to know; empathy and compassion.”

Being a part of the team provides the players with benefits. “It gives them confidence; it boosts their self-esteem.” Not only does this experience give them emotional support, it also gives them support in other aspects. “It’s life skills, it’s social skills, it’s not just hockey.”

The community aspect also adds to the experience of being on the team. Making friends is something many of the members of the team struggle with on their own. Being together with their teammates gives them a sense of comradery and friendship that maybe they would not experience otherwise.

The team not only plays hockey together, they also have annual get-togethers, such as a summer pool party and a fundraiser pasta dinner. Events like these give the team a chance to socialize and be around their friends. Along with the social, another benefit to these events is the fundraising. Because of fundraising and grants, the team is able to provide the players with this amazing opportunity completely free.

There is no charge for being a part of the Emperors, and the coaches even provide equipment, which usually costs upwards of a hundred dollars; but you cannot put a price on happiness. Logan Shields, one of the veteran players, says, “They [the new players] are smiling, and it’s really just a great thing to see.”