Colgate’s Women’s Ice Hockey Team hit the ice in new uniforms featuring puzzle pieces, the symbol of autism, on Friday, January 28 for an ultimately triumphant game against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). The team’s jerseys were specially ordered for the game to raise awareness for Autism Speaks U, the university initiative from the Autism Speaks Organization, which supports biomedical research on the causes and treatments for autism.
The team’s interest in Autism began with team manager Kati Williams, a local teenager from Norwich, New York affected by Asperger’s syndrome. Asperger’s is an autism spectrum disorder that affects an individual’s ability to communicate and socially interact at healthy levels. The spectrum of disorder can manifest at many levels.
“On one end, it is only mildly debilitating. On the other, it is so debilitating that the individual will always need supervision for life. These individuals may not be able to communicate effectively with others even after much therapy,” Associate Professor of Psychology Spencer Kelly said. However, according to Professor Kelly, despite the disorder’s completely degenerative capacity, adolescents can make full recoveries in mild cases where the children are surrounded by “invested parents, special schools and therapy programs.” Williams receives this support from Colgate’s team.
“I think managing the team has helped Katie grow. She is always interacting with us, and the people around the rink to the point where most people can’t tell that she has the disorder,” first-year ice hockey team member Caroline Potolicchio says. The support goes both ways.
Williams never misses a home game and is always at the edge of the ice, “giving us a little fist pump to keep us going. The team loves having her around, and I honestly can’t imagine what the program would be like without her,” Potolicchio said.
According to Autism Speaks, one in every 110 children is diagnosed with autism, and 64 percent of the reported cases occur in males. Many of the treatments for ASD require extensive repetition, which teach children diagnosed with Autism and Asperger’s respond to social cues in ways that come naturally to healthily developing adolescents. Because there is no widely successful medical cure for the disorder, Autism Speaks has invested over $56 million in research funding to combat the disease.
Colgate students did their part in attending Friday’s game clad in light blue. According to Potolicchio, the Women’s Ice Hockey games typically have a turnout of 100-200 fans, but this past weekend 1036 parents, faculty and students made their way down to the rink to support.
The Ice Hockey Team sparked interest in the game by including an inter-Greek competition in which the Greek organization with the greatest turnout would receive a $300 monetary award. The winner was determined to be the Delta Delta Delta Sorority. Even unaffiliated members of the Colgate community came out to support the Raiders and the fight against autism.
“To be honest I haven’t been to a lot of ice hockey games, but it was so fun to support Colgate while supporting a good cause and to see so many people excited about the team,” first-year Liz Penberthy said. The first 250 fans received free t-shirts, courtesy of Price Chopper. But even for the fans who missed the cutoff, there was complementary ice cream and free admission granted to anyone wearing light blue.
Ultimately the game was a huge success. Colgate beat RPI 2-0 and the number of fans exceeded the team’s goal of 1000.
“The team felt great about raising awareness for Autism Speaks U. This project meant a lot to us and in the end we were happy with how successful it was,” sophomore team member Jenna Klynstra said.
As of now the team has raised over $12,000 for Autism Speaks U and is aiming for $15,000 in the near future. Five vendors showed up to Friday’s game offering information about autism and ways for students to get involved. Colgate’s Women’s Ice Hockey team not only raised awareness of autism spectrum disorders within the Colgate community, but also fostered support of local efforts to combat the disease. For more information about how students can get involved visit www. kelbermancenter.org and look into the Walk for Autism.