Cerebral Palsy Can't Score On Young Hockey Goalie

November 22, 1990|By John Harris III | John Harris III,Staff writer

Inspiration is the word most used when describing a bubbly, energetic little goalkeeper named Ben Weetman.

The 12-year-old member of the Millersville-based Chesapeake Bay Chiefs Pee Wee Hockey Club has cerebral palsy.

Opposing coaches don't know it, and opposing players can't tell. Parents of the visiting team don't believe it when they find out. Yet Ben continues to prove himself game after game, causing observers to look on in amazement.

"People who play against him don't believe that he has cerebral palsy," said Wilbur Wade, an ex-Chiefs coach who has been in the program for 17 years. "Most people that don't know Ben say it's impossible for someone who has it to be able to play hockey. He's just an amazing kid, an inspiration to everyone. He really deserves everything that he gets."

"Ben has a heart as big as this building," said Ken Milliken, head coach of the 9-and-under "Mite" League team, standing in the Benfield Pines Ice Rink. "What he's doing now takes a lot of heart and courage. It's an uphill battle for him, but he's a tough kid."

Norma Weetman, Ben's mother, said: "Lots of people laughed at first, but Ken said that he deserved a chance. He really did work with Ben a lot."

So far this season not too many opponents have had the chance to laugh at the confident blond with the easygoing smile. Ben sports a record of 4-1 (including shutouts against the Warmister Glaciers and Lehigh Valley, both of Pennsylvania) for the 8-2 Chiefs.

The fact that Ben is able to keep up with others on the ice is remarkable in itself, considering that just five years ago, he had difficulty just walking on ice.

"When we first brought him here, he'd fall after just taking two or three steps on the ice," said his mother, who credits her late husband, Clement, with giving Ben the desire to give the sport a try. "Luckily, everyone here showed great patience with him. They gave him a chance when other teams in the area wouldn't."

In 1985, the native of New Carrollton, Prince George's County, attempted to join the Fort DuPont Caps of Washington. But the Caps told the Weetmans they didn't have a hockey program for disabled youths. Luckily, with the determination of Ben and his father (an ex-semi-pro football player with the D.C. Bears and avid adult recreation league hockey player who died in 1988), the Weetmans stumbled upon the Chesapeake Bay Club.

Slowly, Ben began learning how to skate -- backward. Because of his disability, his feet naturally turn inward, which creates the perfect position to skate backward. Thus his first position became defense.

"I liked playing defense, but goalie is my favorite postion. You get to stop more pucks," he said.

The exuberant eighth-grader is in his first year of regular school at Charles Carroll Middle in Lanham. Until this year, he attended the Katherine G. Reed School for children with physical disabilities in Greenbelt. While at Reed, he received physical, occupational and speech therapy, and he also made weekly visits to an orthopedic surgeon.

Ben now totes a laptop computer from class to class, makes mostly A's and B's, and still finds time to "chase the girls around," according to current Chiefs head coach Paul Krueger.

"My favorite subject is math," Ben said. "So far, I'm getting an A, but sometimes I still don't do as well as I would like."

Unlike most diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Ben has not had any corrective surgery. After participating in more than 50 games a season, plus practice sessions, hockey has been his main source of physical rehabilitation.

"This has done more for his disability than anything, more than regular physical therapy," his mother said. "He really does enjoy himself. His participation has been a key factor in his development. Even his doctors have been saying that this is the best thing for him, he's even exceeded their expectations."

During his brief hockey career, Ben has made it a habit to exceed expectations. During his initial year (1985-1986) with the Chiefs' in-house training program, he won the first Scott Arminger Award -- given to the player who exudes the most desire, hustle and improvement while in the program.

"Ben is really fun to play with," said teammate David Woodward, a defenseman for the club. "He's really good, but sometimes when he's not doing so well, we have to cheer him up because he gets down on himself a lot."

"I've been around hockey for 60 years, and I've never seen anyone like him," former coach Wade said. "He deserves so much, he's simply amazing."

"I didn't think he'd be physically able to play when he moved up to Pee Wee, but he's had a great season so far," Krueger said. "He's progressing right along with everyone else. He's really an inspiration to everyone."

In addition to his exploits on ice, Ben recently placed first in the Prince George's County Special Olympics 100-meter --, while earning a third-place ribbon in the softball throw.

But hockey remains his sport of choice. And with the number of mentors he has to choose from, that comes as no surprise.

Older brother Jason, 17, plays for the Chiefs Midget squad, while first cousin John was the starting goaltender for the University of Maryland squad in the late 1980s.

However, it was Steve Schiffle, an ex-Chiefs player and Boston College star and now a member of the Hershey, Pa., Bears of the American Hockey League who worked with Ben all summer -- an experience that has fueled the youngster's desire to succeed in the sport.

"I would like to play at Boston College," Ben said. "That way, a scout may get a chance to see me.

"My dream is to be in the NHL (National Hockey League), but with the grades I've been getting, I can be anything I want to be."

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