Hockey is a vicious, violent sport, but it doesn't spill over off the ice for the Oklahoma City Barons. They've developed a program that's shaping the lives of Oklahoma City Special Olympians. Not only is it having an effect on the athletes, but making a profound impact on them.
What started as a simple conversation at a game between Oklahoma City Police Sergeant Shawn Byrne and Josette Nelson, the wife of Barons head coach Todd Nelson, sparked a program that's unlike any other in professional sports.
Shawn Byrne, Barons Buddy creator says "at the time she was working with children with intellectual disabilities at a local high school and she was wanting to integrate some type of program with the players and children with intellectual disabilities and adults and the barons buddies concept came up."
The 4-year-old concept allows Barons players to adopt Special Olympians for the season.
Barons Buddy says, "Take a selfie.." Barons Forward Travis Ewanyk says "a selfie huh?" his buddy replies, "yes."
Each player hosts their "buddy" for four events. on this particular evening the athletes had the opportunity to play games…sound of a Barons Buddy laughing… hang out on the ice and tour the locker room with their Barons player.
Barons player Ryan Hamilton says, "this is for you Sahara, it's your own hockey stick." Sahara's family says "wow, can you say thank you?" Sahara says, "thank you." Ryan Hamilton says, “you’re welcome."
Coriann Taylor, Bradleigh's mom says, "just seeing her excited about stuff makes me excited. and they involved our family, not just her. they let our family do stuff."
While the Barons live on the ice, some like Jon Renchen, had their very first experience in a rink, which was a moment he won’t soon forget.
Jon Renchen says, "I just never thought I’d be able to go on this stuff because it's like a privilege doing this, and it feels like i shouldn't have the privilege, but yet I’m on it right now. I feel like the king of the world right now."
Richard Bachman, Barons goalie says, "That’s one of the greatest parts about playing hockey and getting to do this for a living is you get to share these experiences with other people, for me, it's a great time and I hope Jon had just as much fun."
Jon says, "It was perfect."
Dylan Buckingham says the bond formed between the Barons and their buddies goes much deeper than just the four events they attend together. in many cases the players tend to become a member of the family of their athlete.
Matt Ford, Barons player says, "At the end of the year, I was recovering, I was in the hospital, and Isaiah and his family came to see me and put a smile on my face. This year, when I got back to Oklahoma City, one of the first things I did was go to one of his t-ball games. That was really special to us. I got so attached to Isaiah. Everything he thought of hockey was matt. They think it's for those kids, but it's something special for us."
In a violent sport that's encased in a frozen world, these athletes bring a warmth no one can deny.
Emily Nelson, Barons buddy, sings, "Let it go, let it go, can't hold it back anymore."
Proof that some people really are worth melting for.
Emily Nelson, Barons buddy says, "I love you goodbye"
In Oklahoma city, Dylan Buckingham, NewsChannel 4 sports.