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New ball hockey league will bring joy to children living with autism

When Cory Clapperton started the Thornton Ball Hockey League, his young nephew was diagnosed with Autism. And this week – eight years later – he’s adding a league for children living with an autism diagnosis
ball hockey
Thornton Ball Hockey League founder Cory Clapperton is setting up a skill-building league for kids with Autism, like his nephew Garrett Quick, 10. The play starts Thursday night and a few spots are still open - for players and for volunteers to help the kids learn the game. Laurie Watt/BarrieToday

When Cory Clapperton started the Thornton Ball Hockey League, his young nephew was diagnosed with Autism.

And this week – eight years later – he’s adding a league to his roster of programs for girls, boys, ladies and men over 35 for kids like his 10-year-old nephew .

This Thursday, Clapperton will take 10-year-old Garrett Quick and others with an Autism diagnosis to the ball hockey floor to teach them the basics of the game Canadians love so much. 

“Ultimately the goal is to give kids with Autism and with other disabilities a chance to play. They shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to play a sport. We’re born and bred to play hockey and it’s great to give all kids a chance to play the sport,” said Clapperton, who also owns The Last Shot Bar and Grill in Thornton.

“I play as well. I love the game. It’s great exercise. It’s affordable. You meet people and develop comraderie with your teammates. You feel part of the community.”

He recalled how he loved to play street hockey as a youngster.

“I played ball hockey and ice hockey all my life. We’d play on the street. We’d come in from school, throw down our bags and go play street hockey until the street lights came on,” said Clapperton, who grew up in Newmarket.

He wants his nephew who’s in Grade 4 to experience the same joys, as well as learn a game and develop social skills and friendships.

“I want  him to lead a life that’s as normal as possible and want him to experience different things that bring joy. It’s important he gets exercise and is healthy. That’s why we started this league.  I’d really like Garret to try the sport.”

Clapperton has recruited volunteers and coaches to support the players one-on-one on the floor, to teach them the stick-handling skills, the arts of shooting and how to play the game.

Clapperton added that Garrett took a workshop in the GTA last year that taught him some basic skills, but he was never taught how to play the game.

“What we’re aiming for, ideally, is to be able to integrate these kids into the league, but they need to learn the game and develop the skills before they can play with kids who’ve played ice hockey all their lives,” said Clapperton.

“We have some pretty good nine and 10-year-olds who’ve been playing ice hockey for years. That’s why we want to teach (kids with Autism) the skills so they can play one day. The sky’s the limit.”

Ball hockey, he added, is also an affordable way to discover a team sport, as it requires running shoes, a stick and a helmet.

Cost to register for the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) league is $100, which includes shirts and a year-end party.

“We’re giving them a break,” said Clapperton, who also is organizing a golf tournament for Autism Ontario’s Simcoe County chapter on Aug. 13. Cost of that is $120 per golfer, and that includes a steak dinner at Innisbrook, as well as prizes and lunch.

“At the end of the day, my goal is to increase awareness.”

To register as a participant or volunteer with the ASD ball hockey league – which starts Thursday – email Clapperton at


Laurie Watt

About the Author: Laurie Watt

A journalist with 35 years experience in newspapers, Laurie is also an active volunteer in Barrie.
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