On the ice, the goal of the Wantagh-Seaford Baymen is to win games. Off the ice, it’s about being winners in life.
Head coach Neil Robbins, of Seaford, wants his players to be good citizens, and requires them to participate in community service activities, including helping out the Long Island Blues, a hockey team for developmentally disabled adults, teens and children. His players don’t seem to mind, and like being part of a team that teaches them good values.
“That, to me, is the most important thing,” Robbins said of community service. “It builds character. It gives them an opportunity to really give back to a community.”
The Long Island Blues, based at the Town of Oyster Bay ice rink in Bethpage, work with people ages 5 to 35 who have autism, Down syndrome and other disabilities. They compete in games that are far less structured than those the professionals — or even the Baymen — play.
The Baymen are quite familiar with the Blues. Many have given their time over the past few years to help the players with their hockey skills. Robbins’s son, Billy, 16, has offered instruction through the Learn to Skate program.
“It’s great,” he said. “It teaches kids how to play hockey. I just love seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces after they learn how to skate.”
Robbins, a senior at Seaford High School who is in his seventh year on the Baymen, said his work with children on the Blues has inspired him. He wants to be a special education teacher.
Zach Diaks, 17, a senior at Wantagh High and a defenseman for the Baymen, has also helped teach kids on the Blues how to skate. In addition to taking part in various clinics, he also skated around with several of the children on the Nassau Coliseum ice before an Islanders game.
“It’s very fulfilling,” Diaks said of his work with the Blues. “It’s nice to give back to the community that’s given so much to me.”
He added that he is thankful that, in Neil Robbins, he has a coach who is caring and compassionate, and instills positive values in his players.
John Bush, who plays right wing, is in his second year on the Baymen varsity squad. He has helped out at a shoot-a-thon, a community event in which people pay money to take shots with a hockey stick and try to win prizes. The money raised benefits the Blues.