When Shannon Jackson and his team, the Capital Beltway Warriors, headed down to the 2019 USA Disabled Hockey Festival in Wesley Chapel in Tampa, Florida, March 28 to April 7, his team not only brought back another national championship, but also a whole bunch of new friends, too.
Jackson coaches the Maryland Student Hockey League’s Chesapeake Lightning during the winter, is from Calvert County and is a disabled veteran. According to the MSHL’s website, the Lightning comprised of students from Calvert, Great Mills, Chopticon and La Plata high schools. Jackson participates with the Warriors mainly to help other veterans with an assortment of disability levels like himself.
“I can’t perform the way that I used to when I was younger and didn’t have issues,” Jackson said. “Believe it or not for me it’s more of experiencing things that other guys have a higher disability rating than me, have to deal with. I’m only 50% disabled and some of those guys went through some severe issues on the team.”
He added: “Our captain Joey Martel was in an accident in one of his deployments and they weren’t sure he would ever walk again. It was taking in their experiences and learning from what they went through and feeling like I’m giving back to them by sharing a rink and talking to them. We have a lot of guys on the team suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and a lot of guys suffering from traumatic brain injury. Hockey is the one thing that helps them and forget about whatever else is going on by playing the game and building relationships with fellow veterans.”
The Capital Beltway Warriors won the tournament, defeating the Chicago Black Hawk Warriors 5-3 in the final round to take home a trophy.
“The teams that we played against mostly were the Chicago Black Hawks, the Motor City Warriors, the Tampa Bay Warriors in Tampa,” Jackson said. “But we also played the Alaska Warriors for the semifinal and played the Chicago Black Hawk Warriors in the final.
“We ended up winning 5-3 in the final game. We are two different divisions of Capital Beltway Warriors, the regular team and the disabled team, the portion of the team that are vets and the portion that are the Warriors who have a 10% disability rating or higher. I am in that category.”
Southern Maryland sent about four players to compete with the team, including Leonardtown High School head ice hockey coach Jerry Leger, who is a Navy Veteran, and others like Joey Martel, Matt Holben, and Chris Brown to name a few.
“There’s other organizations that help veterans, but it really makes you feel like your part of something bigger than yourself,” Jackson said. “As a disabled veteran, watching the blind hockey veterans, skating fast, it’s amazing and inspiring to see them do that. That helps me know I can do it. Then they have the standing amputee discipline out there, too. They have missing limbs and prosthetics with hockey skates built into it. It blows you away and it’s humbling. This is what it’s about.”
With the bond shared between the veterans on the team, there are friendships formed in the league that extend far beyond hockey.
“Building relationships with your fellow veterans and teammates and ultimately winning the national championships was amazing,” Jackson said. “We couldn’t believe it. It was the second time we won. It was pretty cool and an experience that nobody knows about. It wasn’t covered on the news, but it’s important to us. We got out there and worked through our pain and issues.”
Leger was also proud to have the opportunity to play in the league and win another national championship.
“It was a good time,” he said. “It was the second tournament that I’ve done with this team. We went to Las Vegas last year. This year we played in the upper division. It was different guys, but everybody got together and had a good time. That was the nature of it all, to have a good time.”
He added: “We had a little bit of the apprehension going into the final. The Chicago Black Hawk Warriors took it more competitively and played questionably. Our first game was against them and the second game they played against someone else and it was a total brawl. We were expecting a close game against them, which came within two or three goals. We expected to get in there with our helmets on and it wasn’t bad and it was just a good competitive game and we ended up coming out on top.”
Leger was appreciative of the league helping other disabled veterans, and for the opportunity to give back.
“Just being out there and competing with all the other teams was great, and interacting with them,” Leger said. “The Pittsburgh team we met at the last tournament at Vegas, we got to make connections and met up with them again this year. It got split up into two pools of four and we were the top team in our pool and they were the top team in our pool. The Chicago team was number two in our pool and Alaska was number two in their pool, but Pittsburgh lost and we were surprised to see Chicago won.”
The Captial Beltway Warriors flew to Florida sponsored by Hero Miles, who helped pay for their flights. They also did some fundraising to pay for the hotels and rental cars.
“We have guys that did a four-year tour, and have a disability rating, and our oldest player is around 60. So we have a whole spectrum, almost every conflict from Vietnam till now,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of knowledge and a lot of history right there. Everyone thinks of disabled people in a wheelchair, being unable to move, and that’s more of a disability. Ours is going to be about the stuff that you read about in the paper. We have experienced things and were fortunate enough to make it home, but still go through things that will mentally break you to the point where they call it invisible wounds.”
But the common denominator is a love of hockey for these veterans and they do it despite pain and age.
“At 42, I pay for it the next day. It’s more of a gentleman’s type sport now,” Jackson said. “The Chicago game was intense and very physical. We joke about it, a friendly game against veterans turns into full-out combat. We both served and both love ice hockey, everything else goes out the window.”