Following Mary Pat

Brick Stars Coach Alex DePalma the fourth New Jersey Hero of 2012.

photoAlt After being a hockey coach for some 25 years, Alex DePalma felt he was ready for a new challenge involving hockey. Recognizing the large number of children and adults with developmental disabilities in our state, he decided it would be exciting and beneficial to start a hockey program to introduce this group of citizens to his favorite sport. In 2009, Alex started the Brick Stars Challenger Program, which has since turned into the fastest growing special needs ice hockey program in NJ. Today, I had the opportunity to meet Alex, his coaches/staff, his players, and their parents at Ocean Ice Palace in Brick. Watching the young hockey players out on the ice was nothing short of inspiring. The program is designed to help players learn the fundamental skills to play ice hockey. What started out as Alex wanting to bring a fun sport to children with disabilities, actually turned into a life changing event for many of these participants. They have become more animated and talkative. They are able to maintain better focus in their daily lives. They have become physically stronger and developed more confidence. The program teaches them about coordination, strength, endurance, and motivation, which helps with their independence. This program started with only 8 players and now has over 40. It is clear the positive effect that this ice hockey program is having on these individuals. Alex is an incredibly humble and deserving NJ Hero. He took his love of hockey and shared it with a community of children and adults that wouldn't ordinarily have the opportunity to play on a team. You can see the joy that each skater is experiencing and the pride that is expressed by their parents. It's fitting that we were able to recognize Alex during April, which is Autism Awareness Month. I hope that by highlighting the great work he is doing in his community, it will inspire others to do the same. To learn more about the Brick Stars Challenger Program, please visit their website: http://brickhockeyclub.com/