Lessons From The Ice

A Reisterstown ice hockey program breaks down barriers.

Megan Sayles - April 2020

Lessons From The Ice

A Reisterstown ice hockey program breaks down barriers.

Megan Sayles - April 2020

-Photography by Matt Roth

When Kim Willard first heard about the Baltimore Area Special Hockey program 12 years ago, she wasn’t sure if her then 11-year-old daughter, Grace, would want to participate. Grace, who has Down syndrome, had never been on the ice before, but Willard registered Grace and her brother, Andrew, for the program anyway.

To her surprise, Grace enjoyed skating. No, she didn’t step into the rink and become Wayne Gretzky, but she practiced every weekend and continued to improve. “It was hard at first, but now I’m pretty good,” says Grace, now 22.

Since starting the adaptive recreational hockey program for children and adults with developmental disabilities in 2008, BASH team managers Jim and Teresa Zinkhan have grown the Baltimore Saints family to 130 players ranging from age 5 to 39.

Prior to founding BASH, the couple did not have any experience working with people with special needs, but per a friend’s suggestion, they created a hockey program where everyone feels welcome on the ice. With decades of playing time under his belt, Jim took on the role of “Coach Pinky”—known for his neon-pink stick, helmet, and gloves—to show players that there’s nothing wrong with being different.

“There is no guidebook on our kids, you have to see what works for each kid individually,” says Jim, pictured.

With the Reisterstown Sportsplex as its home arena, the BASH program is volunteer-based and divided into four sessions, ranging from beginner skaters to players who scrimmage each other and occasionally area high-school teams.

Along with the usual benefits that come with playing a team sport—regular exercise, a sense of community—BASH players have seen additional results, including increased core strength, muscle tone, and self-esteem. No matter the session, each player proudly sports a burgundy, white, and blue jersey with their name and number stamped on the back.

For Jim and Teresa, the heart of the program lies in the bundled-up parents who watch their children navigate the ice—a skill that some people, including Willard, never thought their child would be able to do.

“It’s our Saturday morning miracle every Saturday,” Willard says.

Now, as a Baltimore Saints player for more than a decade, Grace makes skating look easy. She went from using handmade PVC-pipe walkers to gliding around the rink so quickly that not even the brisk air can perturb her. “I feel much better skating,” Grace says. “I feel proud.”

You May Also Like

The Birds Nest

How the Orioles Are Preparing for a “Pandemic Season”

Staying apart is the new team bonding experience.

The Bird's Nest

What The New “Not Normal” Looks and Sounds Like at Camden Yards

The Orioles’ fanless season began this week against the Yankees.

The Chatter

Baltimoreans Pay Tribute to Sports Superfan Mo Gaba

The 14-year-old lost his battle to cancer hours after being elected into the O’s Hall of Fame.

The Chatter

Boxer Yahu Blackwell Is An All-Everything Businessman

The 33-year-old Baltimore native is the owner of the new Rita’s Italian Ice in Hampden.


Bird Brains

Some really smart humans are behind the Orioles’ data-friendly rebuilding project. Will they remake the Birds into a winner?

The Chatter

Early Risers Turn to Skateboarding as a Pandemic Pastime

Group of guys in their 30s and 40s spend mornings skating in Hampden’s Roosevelt Park.

-Photography by Matt Roth

Connect With Us

Most Read

How the Orioles Are Preparing for a “Pandemic Season”: Staying apart is the new team bonding experience.

Five Things to Know About Democratic Mayoral Nominee Brandon Scott: The 36-year-old City Council President rallies past Sheila Dixon to win Democratic mayoral primary.

Design for Distancing Competition Aims to Revive The Beauty of Public Spaces: Forward-thinking social-distancing structures could be built in the city as early as this month.

The Womanist Reader Creates an Online Library of Black Literature: A Baltimore writer curates an evolving list of women writers for her women followers.

Amid The Economic Chaos, Downtown Partnership’s New President Has a Plan: Shelonda Stokes was just named president after serving in an interim leadership role.