Introduction with founder Mike Dwyer
The Werewolves of London were founded by Mike & Charles Dwyer in 2002.
Whilst living in Toronto in the early 90s, Mike’s autistic son Iain learned how to skate during outings with his special school.
In 1993 Mike discovered the then one and only special needs ice hockey team in the world – fortunately it was in Toronto and Iain was signed up. Initially, Iain skated around rather aimlessly, ignoring the puck, coaches and players who tried to engage with him. But eventually there was a breakthrough.
During the first international tournament between Iain’s Toronto team and a Missouri-based team, Iain showed the very first signs of understanding that he belonged to a team and that the purpose of the game was to shoot the puck into the opposing teams net. Iain skated to a loose puck, then used his hockey stick correctly to move the puck down the ice and score – against a very obliging goalie – apparently, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house!
The New York Raptors, the Special Hockey team Mike founded in 1996 for his son Iain. Mike and Charles are third and fourth from the left along the back row.
On the family’s return to the UK, Mike enrolled both Iain and his brother Charles in the Streatham Youth Ice Hockey Club’s under 19 team.
The team readily adopted Iain as a valued team member and enjoyed his company. During trips by coach to away matches in Bristol and Cardiff Iain impressed his team-mates with his encyclopaedic knowledge of characters and story-lines in Japanese animation – a subject which was then very popular in youth culture.
Mike succeeded in persuading the management committee that what they needed was a special needs team. The Werewolves of London Special Hockey team was born in November 2002 with Iain plus one other player and two Coaches, Mike and Charles.
How many people are involved?
Last season we had over 60 players and about a dozen coaches – but we are still growing and expect to have about 80 players by the end of the 2008/09 season.
What age are the players?
The youngest players start at about 5 years of age. The oldest is 25 but we do not have an upper age limit – the Toronto team has a 55 year old player who has been with them for over 25 years!
What sort of people participate?
Children and adults with developmental/learning disabilities who are able to walk unaided, including Autistic Spectrum Disorders, Down Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder and other learning disabilities.
How often do you meet?
Our season runs from early September to end May and includes about 20 training sessions on mostly alternate Saturdays, plus a trip to Canada or the USA to attend the annual Special Hockey International Tournament.
Tell us about the success stories
Most of our players could not skate at all when they joined our programme and quickly learn to skate and have fun playing ice hockey. Some players [and parents] form friendships and maintain contact outside of the programme. Many players are proud to talk about their membership of an ice hockey team to their classmates at school.
What has been your best moment?
One of our younger new recruits last season was too scared to let go of the coach’s hand, even though he had good balance. But just before the end of the season he plucked up the courage to try to skate unaided and quickly moved on to using his stick to control the puck. Fantastic. I usually work with non-skaters to get them started while my son Charles, who is Head Coach, leads the training drills for the more able players with support from our growing team of volunteer coaches. My daughter, Kari, also coaches when she can during holidays from University
What is your vision for the future?
To grow into a thriving, self-sufficient organisation affiliated to the English Ice Hockey Association and Special Hockey International and with Charity status to help our fundraising efforts.
We also want to encourage other special ice hockey teams to be established at other rinks throughout the UK, not only so that we will have other teams to play against, but because ice skating and ice hockey has proved to be such a great developmental experience for my son, Iain, and for other children and adults with special needs. We hosted the Special Hockey International tournament in 2006 and plan to do so again in 2012. Meanwhile, we will continue to encourage attendance at the annual tournaments wherever they are held.