Written by Peter Quartuccio
With hundreds of miles traveled, dozens of hours spent, and mere minutes of sleep obtained, ESNJ embarked on their final day of the 54-in-54 project on Sunday morning. Snow remained on the ground, but thankfully had stopped falling by the time we started the day. While the precipitation halted, the cold did not, as we braved an absolutely frigid Ocean Ice Palace in Brick, where breath billowed out so thick that it was as if there was a blazing fire in our lungs. We were rewarded for our efforts, however, with a game of Special Needs hockey between the New Jersey Dare Devils and Brick’s start-up Special Needs team, the first such game of our journey. We went on to visit rinks in Farmingdale, Middletown, and Bridges Old and Wood (Old Bridge and Woodbridge, respectively), along with the Red Bank Armory rink, which was without question one of the prettiest of the trip. The owner of the Red Bank Armory, Doug Brooks, was particularly warm and accommodating to us, and seemed genuinely thankful for being able to work with ESNJ. There was already a disabled hockey event on the schedule at the Woodbridge Community Center. Helpful and welcoming, their staff is heavily involved with disabled hockey in the area.
Perhaps the single most significant development of the day was the interaction with the Beacon Hill Country Club in Summit, NJ. The club initially okayed our visit, but early on in the day, we got word that they had retracted their invitation. We decided to take the trip anyway, and when we got there, a friendly club representative greeted us cordially but nevertheless reiterated the manager’s withdrawal. Co-founder Jon Schwartz, rather than growing angry or frustrated, kept calm, asking the representative if he or the club manager knew what EveryBODY Skates was all about. When the former responded to the negative, Jon explained to him ESNJ’s mission and the point behind 54-in-54, and asked him to call the manager so that he could relay the message. After a brief conversation, the representative came to us with the news that the club manager rescinded his retraction, and Kudos to Jon for keeping his cool, and kudos too to the club representative, who was positive and open throughout the difficult process.
Our day—and our journey—ended with a trip to the Prudential Center. It may be home to Devils, but the warmth provided by both the facility and the staff was a delightful respite from the bitterly cold weather we encountered all weekend. Our seats were fantastic, and during the 2nd period, we were honored by the Devils’ public address announcer and put up on the big screen, for which we received a hearty applause from the fans in attendance. The game ended in a disappointing 3-2 Devils defeat, but it did not dampen the spirits of the EveryBODY Skates New Jersey team.
As we retrieved our bags from the vans, I could sense a slight sadness in the group that could be seen through the cracks of triumph and relief. I, for one, certainly felt it. I grew to really enjoy the company of those in my group, and will miss the camaraderie, as Jon termed it, we shared.
Cheers to Jon and Andrew Schwartz for their vision, their commitment, and their dedication to this project. Truly, 54-in-54 was an utter success, and a genuine achievement.