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By Matthew Peaslee

Three days of great fun and good hockey happened in early April at the Spencer Family YMCA in Bethel Park.




The Pittsburgh Emperors and Beaver County Ice Sharks played host to "Hockey N'at in Da Burgh", a premier event for the American Special Hockey Association.  Teams from eastern Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and Washington, D.C., came to the South Hills from April 1-3 for this special weekend of hockey.

"It went great," said organizer John Stevenson. "Everybody enjoyed it. We had a blast."

Stevenson and his wife Tracey, helped to establish the Pittsburgh Emperors in 2014. The Emperors are an all-inclusive hockey team that serves children with intellectual or developmental disabilities. There are about 80 such teams nationwide.

The event in Bethel Park allowed kids to take to the ice in friendly competition.

"It gives them an opportunity to play games," Stevenson said. "The kids have fun. We try to set the teams up so that all the teams are playing at a level ability so the matchups are fair. No one team was more stronger than the other team. We worked very hard at evaluating and pairing up the teams so that each kid on the ice had a proper chance at having a good time."

About eight months of planning went into the one weekend. On top of the hockey games, there were food trucks, basket raffles, 50-50 drawings, medal and awards for the participants and specialty T-shirts given out.

Plus so much more behind the scenes, Stevenson said.  "I'm so thankful to all the volunteers who helped out," he said. "From the set up to the take down, there were so many people involved in making this happen — everything all wrapped in one. If it wasn't for all the volunteers, it wouldn't have happened."

More than 200 players have taken part in the Emperors program since its founding more than eight years ago. There is no charge for being a part of the team and coaches also provide specialty equipment.

The Emperors will continue practicing over the next few weeks. Their next tournament is June 10-12 in Coral Springs, Fla.


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