Chatter Cup is more than just hockey games
It began, Craig Beck recalls, as a wish and a play on words.
Diagnosed with autism, Beck's son Colin was non-verbal. Beck and his fellow hockey-loving friend Mike Gibeault, who has a nephew on the autism spectrum, wanted to do something to give voice to kids such as Colin. They wanted to create a fund-raising event where they could hear kids with autism 'chatter.'
Four years later, Beck and Gibeault are preparing for the fifth annual Chatter Cup, having raised more than $140,000 for the Easter Seals Autism Network and other charities.
And Colin, now 13, has begun to speak.
'You can only imagine what type of achievement and milestone that was in our family,' Craig Beck said last week. 'And all the little things that are done along the way, including the (Chatter Cup) event, have made that happen. And more will follow.'
The Chatter Cup returns to the ice of Hooksett's Ice Den and Tri-Town Arena this Friday through Sunday, and once again includes men's, women's and bantam youth divisions. Beck, of Goffstown, and Gibeault, of Hooksett, promise it will be bigger and better than ever.
'The event has grown on multiple levels,' said Beck. 'We are at our peak in terms of teams and players, reaching our max capacity this year of 37 adult teams and all the players this represents.'
In addition to Easter Seals, this year's other beneficiaries are Manchester Community School Music Therapy, the New England Handicapped Sports Association and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
One of the biggest goals of the Chatter Cup is to get families with autistic members to come out and socialize, spend time together and promote a supportive environment.
'We want to provide a great weekend away for families impacted by autism, and we want put in front of them resources they can work with to help them meet the challenge,' said Gibeault. 'This part of the event could really never get too big.'
That family atmosphere is a draw for the players as well as the spectators.
'It's a much bigger event than just the actual hockey games,' said Goffstown resident John Miles, a member of the Putnam Fuel men's division team. 'I think that having so many different activities makes it feel more like a festival atmosphere. When everyone involved can have fun and raise money for a good cause, it's a win-win situation.'
Then there's Jennifer Joscelyn, whose family really jumps in with both skates.
Joscelyn is captain of the Northeast Door Corporation women's team. Her parents, John and Marlyn Curtin, own Northeast Door. Her husband, Scot, captains a men's team in the tourney, and her brother, Jake Curtin, and nephew, Alex Joscelyn Loomis, both play on Scot's team.
'Our entire family is engaged in one way or another,' Joscelyn said. 'It is not very often that multiple generations have this opportunity to play together in a competitive tournament.'
Bedford's Scott Proulx is captain of the Amoskeag Beverages LLC men's team and has been playing in the tournament since it began.
'It is a pleasure and honor to be able to play in this tournament and know that we are having fun doing what we love and helping kids locally with autism,' Proulx said. 'They have made this a family-fun tournament, so it's not just going to the rink and playing a game and then leaving, but rather it's being able to interact with kids with autism and bring your family down to have some fun as well.'
In addition to the hockey action on the ice, the Chatter Cup also will feature a car show at Tri-Town, a silent auction, family skating times, numerous children's activities and a barbecue.
It's all a part of what has become an annual labor of love for so many.
'Knowing we can take something we love to do and make a difference in so many ways is why we continue to do this,' Gibeault said. 'Seeing the interaction between the kids and the children affected by (autism spectrum disorders) helps kids understand that someone can be so similar but so different.
'This allows them to better understand that these kids can do and enjoy the same things they do but have a different way of communicating and expressing it.'