Sports have a magical way of bringing people of all walks of life together. It is why promotional nights like “Rush Gives Back Night” this Saturday are crucial to the fabric of not just the overarching world of sports, but specifically the minor-professional level in an effort to grow the game and unite people under various charitable causes in their respective communities.
“Rush Gives Back Night” features charitable giving of a magnitude never seen before at the ECHL level, maybe even all of minor professional sports. Long story short: the Rush organization is donating a potential $20,000 pot through ticket sales and a generous match of up to $10,000 from Black Hills Energy between four local non-profit groups: Boys and Girls Club of the Black Hills, two West-River based Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) circuits, Fork Real Café, and two Rapid City teams operating under Special Olympics South Dakota.
Regarding the latter organization, the Rush is honored to host a very special guest from Special Olympics South Dakota for Saturday’s “Rush Gives Back Night” showdown against Wichita. Treven Thompson, a 12-year-old athlete with Rapid City Flame who has non-verbal Autism, will achieve a life goal when he serves as the honorary “Kid’s Captain” with the starting lineup prior to puck drop. It’s a culmination of his journey as an athlete and also developing his skills as a skater over the last two years.
“For my family and I, this is the icing on the cake. It’s the pinnacle of the whole Rush experience for my son,” Shane Thompson, Treven’s father said. “When we got the word that he would be the Kid’s Captain on Saturday, on a night that helps raise funds for the Special Olympics as well, he was just ecstatic. We can’t thank the Rush organization enough for this moment for Treven and my family.”
With Rapid City Flame, Treven competes in numerous sports, in particular basketball, softball, and bowling. However, he has always had a love of hockey, and especially of his hometown Rapid City Rush.
“We’ve been Rush Season Ticket Holders for five years,” the elder Thompson explained, “but we’ve been coming to games for quite some time outside of that. We jumped on the Rush bandwagon a little late, but we still enjoyed going to games through corporate tickets with my former employer and my wife’s work, so we got to go to games quite often. One of Treven’s favorite parts of the games is the ‘YES! YES! YES!’ chant that we all do after big goals and big wins, so he has a great time at the rink.
“With Treven having non-verbal autism, we weren’t sure how he’d handle the loud noises at the games,” Thompson continued. “He did well though, and ever since then we completely look forward to it. From that moment, the Rush has been a huge part of what he looks forward to in a year. I was looking through pictures the other day, and one of the oldest memories I have with Treven and the Rush was during ‘McRush Night’ at McDonald’s. He has a great picture with former Rush Captain Scott Wray at the event, and his love for hockey and the Rush has continued to grow from there.”
Treven joined Special Olympics in 2019 at 10 years old. According to his family, they tried to get him into organized sports earlier in his childhood but elected to go the route of Special Olympics once he was a bit older. He started in spring with basketball, winning 2nd place in South Dakota at the state tournament in Mitchell that year. He then followed that up that summer with softball and concluded in winter with bowling.
In addition to his high activity level in Special Olympics, Treven developed another athletic interest: ice skating. While Special Olympics offers floor hockey programs depending on your location, it unfortunately does not currently offer ice hockey. Nonetheless, that has not deterred the young Rapid City athlete.
“Treven has always loved hockey. As he continued to grow with it, he basically turned our basement into a mini hockey rink with boards, nets, pucks…you name it,” Thompson continued. “Once he got older, we took that interest and enrolled him into the Learn to Skate Program at Roosevelt Park Ice Arena.”
The program serves skaters as young as 4 years old to the most advanced skaters in town. Specifically, there is a “Special Olympics” category, which is a program designed for individuals with special needs, and offers a dozen levels of Special Olympics classes, according to the ice arena website. After a skater has completed this program, they may enroll in regular skating curriculum.
Enter John Costello, a Learn to Skate Instructor at Roosevelt Park Ice Arena and a local hockey referee. Costello may be familiar to Rush fans, as he has served as a linesman frequently for the annual scrimmage the Rush hold as a part of training camp every year.
“Our Learn to Skate Program is very comprehensive. We have a level dedicated to athletes that qualify for Special Olympics competition,” Costello said. “There was someone else originally teaching his class while I taught another the first time I met Treven. The first thing that caught my eye was that he came to his class holding a hockey stick. Coincidentally, I had my stick on the ice from coaching some hockey-based classes earlier in the day, so I brought my stick to his end and started to pass a few pucks with him.
“His original instructor had to step down for personal reasons, so I stepped in and took over his classes,” Costello continued. “I’ve been with him for a couple of years now doing skating lessons once a week on Saturdays and trying to keep him having fun, learning, and getting stronger. It’s been a fantastic experience.”
“We explained to John that Treven really likes hockey and it’s very important to him,” Thompson elaborated. “Since that moment, John has really taken Treven under his wing, going as far as to help him pick out a new pair of skates this last year. We know John has a special place in Treven’s heart, and Treven has a special place in John’s, and are very appreciative of the relationship they have.
“After about three or four months of sessions and instructions, John expressed to us that if the rink was open and not being used that we should put some pads on him and shoot around,” Thompson continued. “For the first time in his life, he got to put full hockey gear on and shoot. He was ecstatic! Usually on Wednesday now, he and John will go and play some hockey.”
“One of the challenges of teaching Treven skating and hockey is that he loves hockey so much that he tries to emulate the Rush players. Specifically, he’ll skate for a little bit and then go for a ‘line change’, so he’ll head to the bench and sit for a bit,” Costello added with a chuckle. “After some time, I’ll tell him ‘OK buddy it’s our turn now,’ and we’ll work on some more skills and skating before he’s ready for another ‘line change’. It’s always a fun exchange.
“Last year I’d bring him to mentor skates at Roosevelt and he loved it. He’d put all of his pads on, and every now and then there would be some goalies to shoot on,” Costello continued. “He loves to take faceoffs, so he’ll skate out, win a faceoff, score a goal, and then go to the bench for a change. I’ll add too, he absolutely loves having his pads on. He won’t wear them for normal skating lessons because they aren’t that long, but on those days we do more hockey related exercises, he’s so excited he practically sprints to the locker room so he can get his gear on.”
The skating lessons continued into 2020 for Treven, consistently improving on the ice every day in tandem with watching the Rush at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Ice Arena for home games.
“It’s been amazing to see his growth. Just putting on a pair of skates for the first time in 2019, getting on the ice without the help of a walker, and to see what he can do from the first time to now is great,” Thompson said of his son’s on-ice growth. “John has him skating, stopping, and getting up off the ice on his own. To see the constant improvement has been very special.”
“His growth has been the most special part of all of this. When I first started with him, he wanted to hold your hand and support him on the ice,” Costello added. “It’s been a long road to get him skating on his own as much as possible. Now, he’s standing up and stopping on his own. It’s been a major progression, and a quick one at that.
“Let’s put his growth into perspective: The Rush are professionals and skate every day, while Treven is skating once or twice a week and taking some time off in the summer because ice isn’t always easy to get. Yet, when he comes back to the rink, he remembers everything he’s learned and only continues to grow. He truly is a special person.”
As we all know, however, the world came to a screeching halt in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only had Treven watched the Rush, poised to make a playoff run with a dozen games to go, end their season, he also saw his own skating and hockey activities put on hold.
“Treven is a brilliant kid. He knows what’s going on, understands COVID, and he understands what’s been taking place during this pandemic,” Thompson said. “He does a great job keeping track of the team and its happenings. He constantly follows them on Facebook and on the website, so when he saw the season was cancelled, you could see the letdown. He was sad and heartbroken.
“COVID was challenging for Treven. The Rush being cancelled was just the start. It continued from there,” he expanded, somberly. “As we got into summer, the pools didn’t open, Special Olympics softball was cancelled, and the ice arena was closed, so it was just hanging out in the backyard in the pool every now and then. With everything shut down, there wasn’t a lot to do. It was very tough.”
Since then, things are slowly getting back to normal in society with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic. With that normality, Roosevelt Park Ice Arena re-opened, so Treven could resume his skating lessons with Costello. As time went on, the Rush returned to normal hockey operations, albeit under unique circumstances, with their full 72-game 2020-21 season beginning in December.
As Rush hockey and the ECHL as a whole came back, the uncertainty of the pandemic necessitated a staggered release of the team’s schedule, with anywhere from 13 to 20+ games revealed at one time in four total waves. It was announced in the third wave of the schedule, and subsequently the third wave of promotional nights, that the team was holding its first ever “Rush Gives Back Night”, in conjunction with the annual Teddy Bear Toss. Special Olympics South Dakota was named as one of the beneficiaries of the game.
“When I heard about ‘Rush Gives Back Night’ for the first time, I was happy to see that Special Olympics was one of the organizations benefitting from the game,” Thompson explained. “Last year, we had talked about Treven possibly being the Kid’s Captain at one of the Rush games and how special that would be for him. There’s no ice hockey in Special Olympics, so he won’t be able to be a part of an organized hockey team. I just got to thinking it would be really neat to showcase Treven like this, being that he’s a Special Olympics athlete and an avid hockey fan.”
“It’s funny, but I remember the initial conversations from his parents on potentially being a Kid’s Captain last year, and he really took it to heart,” Costello interjected. “We went out to skate together shortly after that moment and, unprovoked, he skated to the blue line as if he was with the starters and put his hand over his heart for the National Anthem, just like the Kid’s Captain would normally do at a Rush game. We stood there for a minute, then he took a faceoff and scored, then went to the bench. You can tell how much he loves seeing that at games.”
“The Rush organization has done so much for him as a fan and athlete over the last few years. For our family, this is just so special,” Thompson continued, emotionally. “We told him this was something we were looking into just to prepare him for it. When we got the call that it was a go, he was over the moon. He’s looking forward to it.”
“When I heard he’d be doing this for real, something he’s even practiced with me, I was so happy,” Costello added enthusiastically. “Treven has had so much fun on the ice. He has a smile on his face every time he goes out there, so I can only imagine how big his smile is going to be when there’s a full house cheering him on when he goes out there.
“It’s amazing to see the love for the game through a kid like Treven. He doesn’t speak a word to you, but he doesn’t have to in order to show you how much he loves hockey,” Costello concluded. “Seeing people who love the game for what it is got me into teaching it. The guys who love and respect the game, they just want to be out there skating regardless of what kind of a day they’re having. Treven could come to the rink tired, distracted, or not feeling well, but if you put a stick in his hand and a puck on the ice, he’s in go mode. People like him got me into teaching skating and hockey, and to see him get recognized on Saturday night makes me so proud of him.”
“He’s carefully watched every kid before him go out as the Kid’s Captain, and knows what he needs to do,” Thompson concluded. “He’s dropped the puck a few times before at games, but Treven’s been waiting a long time for this. I can honestly say that this is something he’ll remember forever.”
Costello mentioned, should parents with special needs children wish to sign them up for the Special Olympics level skating class, to contact Roosevelt Park Ice Arena. There are classes running six weeks at a time. To purchase tickets for “Rush Gives Back Night” on Saturday, April 3rd, click HERE. All tickets, regardless of location in Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Ice Arena, are $25.