Athletes compete in Special Olympics hockey

Hannah Grover
Nathan Sowells, center, goes after the puck while his mom, Laura Sowells, tends goal for Team San Juan County No. 1 during the Special Olympics New Mexico 2016 Poly Hockey Championships on Saturday at McGee Park.

FARMINGTON – After weeks of training, more than 300 athletes from around the state gathered Saturday at McGee Park for the annual Special Olympics poly hockey championship.

Poly hockey, a mixture of ice hockey and floor hockey that is played using polyethylene sticks, is the sole winter Special Olympics sport and is unique to the Special Olympics. In fact, only a couple of states even have poly hockey games.

Because it is unique to the Special Olympics, poly hockey is one of the few sports that is not unified — meaning only people with disabilities compete in the championship.

"It's a unique sport to Special Olympics, and it's something we want to preserve," said Chris Page, the sports director for Special Olympics New Mexico.

Every year, McGee Park hosts the championships. Erin Gallegos, a spokeswoman for Special Olympics New Mexico, said the convention center provides the perfect location because it is large enough for the three rinks, as well as the dinner and dance that follows the championship.

"These are really the perfect floors for hockey because they look like ice," she added.

Donald Scott Patterson of Team Phoenix of Albuquerque celebrates a goal during  the Special Olympics New Mexico 2016 Poly Hockey Championships on Saturday at McGee Park.

The championship consists of nine divisions based on skill level, and there are three rinks — one for teams with lower skill levels, one for teams with intermediate skill levels and one for the advanced teams. Each team competes against teams in its own division.

"We'll crown nine champions," Page said.

On Saturday, 29 teams from 11 delegations competed. The delegations are a group of teams from the same location.

Ryan Hanson, 30, of Farmington has been playing poly hockey for more than 20 years.

"I like this sport because there's a lot of good competition," he said.

He said he likes the noise of the game and being with his friends as he competes.

Ryan Sandoval of Team San Juan County No. 2 celebrates after scoring against Carlsbad No. 2 on Saturday at McGee Park.

That camaraderie is also one of the things that James Santillanes, 31, of Albuquerque, enjoys about poly hockey.

"I love everybody here, and I love all the coaches and people," he said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.