Sharon Fung has struggled over the years.
As president of the North Bay North Stars, she has often found herself in the uncomfortable position of turning people away from the hockey program, because it is full.
"The North Stars is a hockey team for adults and children who have developmental disabilities, and who generally are unable to play mainstream hockey. So they get a chance to come out every Sunday and play hockey just like everybody else, in an environment that is nurturing, and they get to develop at their own pace with their own peers," Fung explained.
"We have an A and a B team and they are always full. We may be able to slide one or two people in, in a year, but that's about it."
Thanks to an $8,600 grant from the GoodLife Kids Foundation, the North Stars program is expanding in September to include younger children starting at six years of age, up to 18. The money will help cover the cost of ice rentals for two years.
"It's more of an initiation into the North Stars program," said Fung.
"This way we figure there has to be some young kids out there that need a little bit extra attention, and because of their special needs, need a little extra support."
GoodLife group fitness instructor Mariane Wagner, helped organize the Spin4Kids fundraising event which is funding the new program.
"The Good Life Kids Foundation mission is to give every Canadian child the chance to live a healthy and good life, especially those with special needs," explained Wagner
"The money was raised through the Good Life Kids fundraiser that we do annually called Spin4Kids. People get teams together, and participate in at least one hour of physical activity, and raise money which goes to the foundation. North Bay did extremely well. We were number four for fundraising in the country, which is pretty awesome, going up from number five. So hopefully this year we'll be number three," said Wagner.
The new program will teach youngsters the rules of hockey, as well as skills development, team play, and sportsmanship. As they get older, they can move up to the intermediate and senior teams.
The program is capable of taking up to 20 players.
David Nadeau is head coach of the North Stars program.
"Expanding the program is going to allow us to develop the younger players at their own pace. I'm going to run a separate program, a separate hour. As I jokingly told the two groups, we're going to have a farm team," he laughed.
"The idea is to develop a love of the game and have them want to keep playing it. We're going to be scrimmaging, doing drills and skating with lots of support. I want them to feel like a hockey player. I know the players that we took in, and when I see them playing now and loving it, it's really rewarding."
The North Stars have partnered with Community Living of North Bay on this project.