GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Christmas came early for a group of hockey players on Dec. 5. Players from the West Michigan Patriots gathered inside the Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids to receive a special gift.
"New players this year got their jerseys and all of the team got jackets like the one I'm wearing from a donation by an anonymous donor" said Charlie Keider, the President and director of coaching with the West Michigan Hockey Association.
The West Michigan Hockey Association is a non-profit group of volunteers that gives players with disabilities a chance to get back onto the ice.
"There was a huge need for a team like this where kids were begging to be on the ice but couldn't find a team" said Keider.
Not being part of a team was a heart breaking experience for Pierce Wysong, an 8th grader from Holland.
"We didn't know I had Asperger's yet. I was playing cross ice and I was a kinda crazy, and the coach didn't like that so he kicked me off. That was before I came to this team" said Wysong.
The Patriots weren't alone to celebrate Jersey Day today. Team members from the Grand Rapids Griffin's came to help make today even more special.
"Every time the Griffins are here, they're so exited to see them (the team), shake their hand, talk to them about hockey, and come to games like this where they can see them doing their thing on the ice and can relate to them as hockey players" said Keider.
The Grand Rapids Griffins are familiar faces to this team.
"We have a couple of players that make it out to practice on a regular basis when they're not busy with their day job playing hockey. They come out and play hockey for fun and for free. They've really helped support our team and organization" said Keider.
An organization that has grown rapidly. At just a year old, the West Michigan Patriots have almost 40 players.
"They didn't have a place to play where they could be a star and we offer them that opportunity to where they can come off the sidelines" said Keider.
Off the sidelines and into the spotlight, something the director of coaching says he's happy to be a part of and sees nothing but smiles of players faces.
"Today you could it when they were opening up their jerseys, how excited everybody gets. That's why i do it" said Keider.
For more information on the West Michigan Special Hockey Association, visit their Facebook page.