The Central Okanagan Wildcats and Kelowna Wild programs are hosting 10-team tourney at Rutland Arena.                                -Image: Contributed

The Central Okanagan Wildcats and Kelowna Wild programs are hosting 10-team tourney at Rutland Arena. -Image: Contributed

Kelowna hosts Special Hockey Tournament

Children and youth with autism and other disabilities to play in Wildcats 10-team event

In 2006, Kelowna’s Phil von Unruh founded the Central Okanagan Wildcats Special Hockey program.

More than a decade later, children and young adults in B.C. with autism and other developmental disabilities continue to benefit from von Unruh’s vision.

The Central Okanagan Wildcats and Kelowna Wild programs are playing host this weekend to the ninth annual Special Hockey Tournament at Rutland Arena.

Ten teams and close to 200 players from around the province will converge on Kelowna Friday and Saturday to play hockey, while developing fitness, coordination and social skills within a team environment.

“It is a wonderful program that not only offers a wonderful athletic and supportive environment for kids on the spectrum, but also offers wonderful social connection to their families,” said Rosemary Thomson, a parent of one the players.

“In my opinion coach Phil deserves the order of Canada. He is awesome with the kids and totally selfless.”

Since founding a program in Kelowna in 2006 to give his son and other children with special needs an opportunity to play hockey, von Unruh has started up other teams in Vernon, Penticton, Kamloops and the Lower Mainland.

In 2016, he established the Kelowna Wild Special Hockey team for young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities to continue playing after they age out of the Wildcats. Siblings are also allowed to take part as peer players.

The tournament will feature 15 games, as well as two coach’s games. There will be an opening ceremony, with Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran to bring greetings and drop the ceremonial first puck.

The Special Hockey Tournament will feature six youth and four adult teams from Penticton, Kelowna, Vernon, Kamloops, Vancouver, Surrey, Victoria and the South Island.

Following the tournament, there will be a banquet for six hundred people as well as closing ceremonies.

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