The RPI Engineers give up some of the sights and sounds of playing at home in order to welcome some new spectators who aren't comfortable with the bright red lights and blaring music. Innae Park has more on RPI's Autism Awareness Game against Colgate.
TROY, N.Y. -- If you felt that something was missing from RPI’s hockey game against Colgate Friday night, you are right.
One spectator described it as, “It's [about] the sticks, the skates, the blades.”
For the most part, that was it.
Engineers Head Coach Seth Appert explained, “This is the first major sporting event of any kind where they've really quieted the whole environment.”
The reason: to welcome children with autism.
“It's just going to be the game of hockey in its simplest form in an environment where a lot of autistic children can probably enjoy their first hockey game,” said Appert.
In the first ever Autism Awareness Night, RPI Hockey has changed the feel of the game
by cutting the blaring music, putting the pep band on hold, and letting go of the flashy light displays. The PA system’s audio was lowered and the flashing red goal lights were switched to blue.
Jason Kippen has been coming to RPI hockey games since he was five years old. Now that he has a son of his own, he has looked forward to bringing Michael to cheer on the Red. However, his eight-year-old has autism.
Last summer, Kippen and his son met Coach Appert. Following a few discussions, Autism Awareness Night was born, leading to the many changes Friday at the Houston Field House.
“Autistic people have sensory issues, so that loud goal horn, they took that down considerably,” said Kippen as one example.
Without the music blaring, hockey fans both young and old are now able to enjoy the beauty of this game in its simplicity.
Appert said, “We're really going to simplify, kind of go old-school, so to speak. The entertainment is the game itself.”
As for the celebration, the real moment to cheer on is the opportunity to bring awareness to a condition that affects so many.
Lisa Janicke’s son also has autism. She volunteers with the local chapter of the Autism Society, and she said, “I still think there's a long way to go as far as awareness and people knowing what's available to them.”
For now, this special night allows families to carry on tradition, like the Kippens. “This experience of comfort tonight and a safe place will hopefully have him come back again,” said Kippen.
It also means an athletics program has broken ground.
“We're just thrilled and honored to be a small part of this,” said the coach.
“Maybe there's not the noise there,” admitted Kippen. “But there's so much goodwill and feelings toward the team that I know something special's going to happen tonight.”
For these fans, that something special has already happened.
Coach Appert says he hopes to continue to hold autism awareness nights at Engineers games. That will depend on the success of this inaugural one.
To learn more about the Greater Capital Region chapter of the Autism Society, visit albanyautism.org.