Growing tournament supports a LV special needs hockey program
Sixteen hockey teams from Pennsylvania and New Jersey braved some flurries and brisk 30 degree temperatures to converge at the Bethlehem Municipal Ice Rink on Illick’s Mill Road Jan. 28 for the fourth annual Lehigh Valley Winter Classic. The Winter Classic is a hockey tournament, played outside in the elements, which helps support the Lehigh Valley Polar Bears, a local, special hockey team, part of the American Special Hockey Association.
The event has doubled in size the last two years, growing from eight teams to 16 teams. All money raised from the tournament goes directly to the Polar Bears, a team of 25 children with varying degrees of disabilities.
“The money raised subsidizes for families who otherwise pay extremely high medical bills,” said Adam Bortz, the Winter Classic tournament director. “Through the money raised, we are able to provide the Polar Bears with equipment, uniforms, ice fees and anything else the team needs.”
This year, the event has raised over $26,000, up $8,000 from last year through sponsors, donations and a gofundme.com fundraising page. The increase in donations is due in large to the classic being an all-day event for the first time this year, starting at 8 a.m. and running through 10 p.m.
“We were in shock while counting all the money,” Bortz said. “We cannot believe the generosity.”
But Bortz and others are concerned for the future of the classic, due to a possible restructuring of the building department in the city of Bethlehem which would move two workers at the rink away from the ice.
“There’s these two guys, named Mike McGraw and Adam Wagner, who go above and beyond what they need to do,” Bortz said. “They are the best city workers. They care so much about this event and about the ice for the kids. It is the best ice in the Lehigh Valley. Everyone loves skating on the ice,” Bortz said. The fear is that without these two workers being in charge of the rink, the rink itself would not receive the necessary care, forcing the classic to possibly come to an end.
“The Lehigh Valley Winter Classic is a vehicle to get special hockey funding to get these kids what they need to play hockey,” Bortz said. “If Adam and Mike aren’t there preparing and manicuring the ice, the event could fall apart which will make it extremely difficult to raise money for the program. I am just nervous that some other guys will come in who don’t know the program and won’t care about this event like these guys do.”
Joe Guellnitz, the coach of the Polar Bears, is also fearful for the future of the rink and the Winter Classic if these changes are made by the city.
“The rink staff does an incredible job taking care of the ice,” Guellnitz said. “Any departure from the current staff would have me concerned for the future of the rink and the Winter classic. Simply put, the classic cannot exist without it (the rink) and the staff.”
Bortz believes the city of Bethlehem could be losing a gem in the ice rink if McGraw and Wagner are relocated to another department ,and strongly believes if these two men could run the rink it could bring in more revenue for the city adding, “If these two guys could run the rink, not only could it be more incredible than it is now, but it would be more profitable that it could fund other recreational programs in the city. But for some reason the city can’t see that or they don’t want to.”
There are other indoor facilities where the Winter Classic could be moved, Bortz said, but it wouldn’t be the same environment for the players, since most rinks are indoors in climate controlled arenas. Real hockey is meant to be played outside in the chill wind and low temperatures, where the players and spectators can see their breath, Bortz added.
“We could play at the PPL Center or other bigger venues than Bethlehem Municipal Ice Rink, but playing outside in the elements, that’s the true route of hockey. That’s how it should be played,” Bortz said, “and that is what makes it so special.”
Donations for the event can be made by cash, check or credit card. If you were unable to make the event but would still like to donate, visit the fundraising page at www.gofundme.com/lvwinterclassic. Checks can be made out to the American Hockey Association, with Lehigh Valley Special Hockey in the memo.
For more information about the event or to get involved, please call Adam Bortz at 610-597-4629 or email at email@example.com
For more information about the Special Hockey of Lehigh Valley Polar Bears team, please call Coach Joe Guellnitz at 610-597-1131 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.