Hockey teams hit ice for Special Olympics

Onyx Rochester Arena donates rink, sponsors Great Michigan Race

By Erin McClary

C & G Staff Writer

ROCHESTER — Before Michigan athletes take on the Great Michigan Race for Special Olympics Michigan this October, a slew of local hockey players will hit the ice for a weekend-long tournament to raise money and awareness for the big event.

Organizers are dubbing it a “great skate for a great cause,” but more formally, it’s referred to as the Great Michigan Race Summer Classic adult hockey tournament. It’s taking place Aug. 20-22 at Onyx Rochester Arena, 52999 Dequindre in Rochester Hills.

“The event is a brand-new fundraiser for Special Olympics Michigan,” said Jill Fraeyman, co-founder of the event. “This weekend of hockey is an event before the event, or a precursor to the race to show why we’re doing it. And it also serves as a fundraiser.”

The inaugural Great Michigan Race, which was inspired by the CBS reality show “The Amazing Race,” is taking place throughout the Rochester area Oct. 17. Roughly 200 teams of four have signed on for the challenge, which will support Michigan’s special needs athletes.

The Great Michigan Race is a 5K route on foot, with 10 challenge sites along the way. Onyx is one of the sites, said Fraeyman. “As part of their presenting-level sponsorship, they donated their entire arena for us to utilize … to raise money for SOMI athletes supporting special needs athletes.”

Ryan Pardoski, general manager at Onyx, said the arena is pleased to help maximize the race’s exposure and raise money for the cause.

“The Onyx is proud to be a part of events that embrace the athlete in all of us,” he said. “I can't think of a better organization to benefit from this great weekend of hockey and the new Great Michigan Race than Special Olympics.”

Fraeyman said the donation of the arena allows the organization a chance to raise more than what any sponsor could give in cash. “They donated the arena and basically said, ‘raise all the money that you can,’” she said. “It’s better than just giving us a check. Hopefully we can raise three times what they could’ve given us.”

Teams of local hockey players are being recruited. They’ll start playing the evening of Aug. 20 and continue in the tournament Aug. 21. Winners will play in semi-final and final games Aug. 22.

It costs $500 per team to participate in the tournament, and teams can be made up of a maximum 16 payers. Spectators can watch the Summer Classic tournament games for free.

A separate team will also be made up to play against the Red Wings Alumni, which will serve as an additional fundraiser Aug. 21. To play against the Alumni, the cost is $200 per player. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for kids 4 and older to watch. Special Olympics Michigan is the event’s sole benefactor, and all the proceeds will go toward raising awareness for the Great Michigan Race and supplies for the event.

A few other games have been arranged for the weekend of hockey, Fraeyman said. The Michigan FAR Flyers, made up of higher functioning but intellectually challenged athletes; and the Sled Dogs, made up of physically disabled, sled-bound hockey players, will also take the ice for Special Olympics.

“What we’re trying to do is not only raise money to support special needs athletes,” Fraeyman continued, “we’re also trying to bring awareness to, showcase and highlight the spirit in which they compete.”

Special Olympics Michigan is made up of more than 20,000 volunteers who provide training and competition to upwards of 17,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities in 23 different Olympic-type sports. The organization is made possible through donations, sponsorships and special events.

The Summer Classic adult hockey tournament is open to the public, and fans are welcome to watch. There will be 32 teams in four divisions to accommodate different levels of skill.

For more information on how to participate, contact Jill Fraeyman at (248) 420-0745 or jill@greatmichiganrace.com. To participate in the Red Wings Alumni game Aug. 21, contact Rick at (248) 444-7774 or rick@getin2itive.com.

For more information about the Great Michigan Race, visit www.greatmichiganrace.com. To learn more about Special Olympics Michigan, check out www.somi.org.

You can reach Staff Writer Erin McClary at emcclary@candgnews.com or at (586) 279-1118.