Nine-year-old Luke Armbruster got his chance to be the centre of attention in gym class on Feb. 20.
The Glenelm School Grade 4 student has arthrogryposis, a condition where a child is born with joint stiffness, and must use a wheelchair.
However, Armbruster took up the sport of sledge hockey for the 2012-13 season, and has enjoyed playing for the Manitoba Sledgehammers alongside brother Isaiah, 10, who does not have the condition.
"With the return of the Jets, every kid is into hockey and dreaming about being a hockey player," said the boys’ father, Sherwood. "Luke and Isaiah are no different. They get out on the ice and compete and have fun."
The duo had the opportunity to show off the sport to their Grade 4 and 5 class at Gateway Recreation Centre, as the school was able to get sleds, helmets and sticks rounded up to allow the Armbrusters’ classmates to play. Players sit in the sleds and use the sticks, which have small ice picks on one end, to pull themselves across the ice.
Luke said he had a "fun" time, and enjoyed being on the ice with all his classmates, even though he and his brother were split up to play in different scrimmages because of their skill advantage.
Glenelm teacher Errol Sookram said he caught a Sledgehammers game at their home MTS Iceplex rink, and then looked into incorporating the game into his class.
"We’re looking for all things we can do that are going to be more inclusive," he said. "I thought it was a neat way to introduce the students in my class to a new sport and also to let that other student shine a bit."
Sookram said his philosophy for all his students is to incorporate their strengths and interests into his classes to help them grow as athletes and as people.
There was plenty of outside help needed to get the ice session together. Sledge Hockey Manitoba executive director Bill Muloin came out to show the students how to move on the sleds, while Coun. Thomas Steen (Elmwood-East Kildonan) rented the ice and provided the class with a pizza lunch.
"It really opens the eyes of the kids that inclusion is a big part of life now," said Muloin. "To be able to come out here and showcase ‘It doesn’t matter that I have a disability, I can skate’ just like you or I, especially in an adaptive sport like this, that’s a really key message."
"They’re laughing and giggling – if they fall, they don’t care," he added.
"It’s all part of the learning experience."