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Sault youngster enjoys an ultimate Detroit Tigers experience

Aaron Cox and Paws

July 5, 2007

SAULT STE. MARIE - With the day-to-day rigors and pressures of trying to win in Division I college hockey, it's easy to lose sight of the impact our athletes and coaches have on youngsters and their community.

Lindsay Brink and Courtney Welch of the CCHA, and Shireen Saski of FSN-Detroit with Aaron Cox at Comerica Park

During one snowy day last February, the Lake Superior State hockey team and the sponsors of Central Collegiate Hockey Association's Hockey is Fun Clinics gave a group of Sault Ste. Marie boys and girls an opportunity they would never forget. In response, one parent took the time to write a thank-you letter to the team that not only touched the entire LSSU Department of Athletics, but found its way to the CCHA main office and FSN-Detroit. The letter helped inspire the CCHA to push for a national Hockey Day celebration. More importantly, it confirmed that college hockey - the game and its participants - touches the lives of young people.

Tawny Carpenter, the mother of six-year-old Aaron Cox, wrote, "Mark and I were not sure how Aaron was going to react to putting on all that gear and trying ice skates for the first time ever, but with Mark's presence and the support and encouragement of your players and staff, Aaron felt like Steve Yzerman holding his first Stanley Cup! He came home and said to Mark and I, `I a winner. I did great!' To an ordinary player or staff member who doesn't know anything about Aaron, you may not realize what kind of impact you all really had on this boy! I have seen him cry himself to sleep some nights feeling so down and lonely, and last night was the first night in a long time that my son fell asleep with a big smile on his face! He felt so important and so proud of himself that he `made a goal' and `played hockey.' It just lit up his entire night, and for those of you that have children, as a parent you know how it feels to see that glow in a child's face when they know they did a great job."

Aaron Cox has a mild to moderate form of autism. According to Carpenter, he wasn't able to speak until age 4 and is just now able to handle large crowds.

"He still has sensory issues," Carpenter said. "But he has always liked watching hockey and the stimulation of it."

The Hockey is Fun Clinic, which is designed for youngsters who have never played hockey before and part of the Hockey Day in Michigan celebration, was Cox's first time on skates.

"He had the best time at that clinic," Carpenter said during a recent interview. "You couldn't wipe the smile of that child's face. Aaron has a lot of challenges. Mark (Freel, Carpenter's boyfriend) was helping him, and he spent most of the time on his butt. I was watching from the visitor's bench as he shuffled his feet to the net. As soon as (LSSU player) Derek R. Smith said, `You did it, buddy,' boom, he landed on his butt again. Then Dan Eves (another LSSU player) helped him score his first goal. Dan hoisted him up over his head."

Aaron Cox and Detroit Tigers' Brandon Inge

The CCHA, FSN-Detroit and RBK Hockey wanted to do more for Aaron. Their representatives sent him a box of Red Wings memorabilia, and Bob Reid of RBK Hockey organized a trip to a Detroit Tigers' game for Aaron, Tawny and Mark that included a room in the Renaissance Center donated by the CCHA, watching batting practice at field level and watching the game from the FSN-Detroit suite. Aaron met Tigers Brandon Inge and Pudge Rodriguez, and the Tigers' mascot, Paws, visited their suite.

"We first heard about Aaron after he participated in the Hockey is Fun Clinic with the Lakers," said Shireen Saski of FSN-Detroit. "His story was so inspiring that we wanted to give him another experience he would never forget. And after experiencing a day at Comerica Park through Aaron's eyes, those of us with him will never forget it either.

"He is a sweet young boy with an infectious smile. And while we may have given him great joy that day, it pales in comparison to the happiness we gained from spending time with him."

"It was the ultimate fantasy baseball weekend," said Tawny, who is a big Tigers fan. "When I first told Aaron about the trip, he thought we were going to see real tigers playing baseball. When I turned on the TV, I said "these are the Tigers we are going to see.' Then he saw Paws on TV. I think Paws may have outweighed Brandon Inge and Pudge, but he watched the entire game. He saw Placido Polanco hit the home run and liked hearing 42,000 fans sing `Take Me Out to the Ball Game.' He was so excited when he met Paws that he couldn't get a word out."

Carpenter is keenly aware that her son was given an opportunity that few children are afforded, and she did her best to turn it into a teaching tool.

"It's a big step for him to be around people he's never met before," Carpenter said. "I was surprised that he held Courtney's hand (in reference to CCHA representative Courtney Welch), and he glanced back always making sure we were close by, but he let her take him down to the field. I don't raise him as if he has a disability, and I think that makes a difference."

The LSSU hockey team enjoyed being a part of the Hockey is Fun Clinic, and the coaching staff is thrilled to have made an impact on a youngster like Aaron.

"It is just awesome that all of those people stepped in and did that for Aaron," LSSU coach Jim Roque said. "We definitely look forward to doing the clinic again next year."

Lake Superior State Men's Ice Hockey
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