BOSTON - Patrick is a 9-year-old boy who loves playing with his dog almost as much as playing on his computer. He also has autism, so come Saturday morning, everything changes. All he's interested in is Coach Joe and getting on the ice.
"But he loves hockey, loves hockey. He wears the Boston black and gold and he's all ready to go," said Joe Dellanno, SLS hockey coach. "When he comes here, his face lights up. He wants to interact with us and he wants to perform."
Skating didn't come naturally for the Patrick, but he's come a long way, thanks to coach Dellanno, who figured out how get kids like Patrick to focus and pay attention.
"They're into video games, so we thought wouldn't it be cool if we put a video game underneath their feet and then make it move so that it's animated so they have to chase it or they have to interact with it," Dellanno explained.
And, that's what he does. At Smart Light Sports, Dellanno projects images on the ice the kids relate to, like flamingos, whales or stars, and before you know it, they follow along, focus, and learn.
"It's great that he's doing something that he loves and that he's happy," said Caileigh Sweeney, Patrick's sister.
"I also think it's Joe's coaching style. He does a great job with Patrick. They made an instant connection when we came here," said Patrick's dad, Tim Sweeny.
"Every day that I leave here, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I've made a difference in these kids's lives, so I know I'm connecting with them and it makes me feel absolutely wonderful," Dellanno said happily.
"It really warms my heart just to see how happy he is. We just want him to have fun just like all the other kids," said Maureen Sweeney, Patrick's mom.
Dellanno applies his smart light technology to lots of sports, including hockey, field hockey, soccer, baseball, and lacrosse, and they are in the process of getting the technology working all over the country.
Allentown, PA 18102
- Lehigh Valley Mike Nester