Via Christine Troyke - Gwinnett Daily Post (LINK)
Atlanta Gladiators defenseman Taylor Doherty towered over the kids circled at his feet on Sunday, November 5th at the South Gwinnett Athletic Association’s roller rink in Snellville.
To be fair, Doherty towers over most people.
The 6-foot-7 blueliner joked with the grade-schoolers, answering and asking questions.
They talked about favorite teams and what the best foods are for athletes.
Doherty gave the fish suggestion his stamp of approval and deadpanned his surprise over the number of Falcons fans.
The entire team — players and coaches — came to SGAA to host a free two-hour clinic for 150 kids, age 4 to 17, as a thank you for playing in the Atlanta area rec leagues.
“Obviously with my role for the last five years focused more on the youth hockey side, just seeing the value of support from the community,” said Patrick Houlihan, the Gladiators original equipment manager who returned to the organization in that capacity, but also as the assistant director of hockey operations this season.
“I’ve probably been guilty of it as well at times, not really doing our best to overall grow the game. There’s been some good things going on, but it’s just not enough. We need more.”
Houlihan has spent the last few years directing the youth program at the IceForum in Duluth and coaching teams as well.
“With this opportunity to come back in, overseeing the equipment was part of it, but there were more things I’d like to add value to,” Houlihan said. “One of those is really making a stronger connection between the pro team, the one that’s still here, and the youth market. They’re our best and biggest fan base. We really need to address it, take care of them, form relationships. They’re the ones that really support you.”
They broke up into three groups of 50 to work on skills and small-area competition. The third station was a chalk talk.
Captain Derek Nesbitt also went head-to-head with kids in an accuracy challenge and everyone signed autographs at the end.
Kids from the leagues in Snellville, Pinckneyville in Norcross and Cherokee all had a chance to sign up for the event, which Houlihan said wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of Lisa Polunin who handled all the volunteers and player logistics.
“Matt Hackett (Cherokee), John Tronolone (SGAA) and Daniel Jakubowski (Pinckneyville), we all met in the summer and they’re definite supports of the Gladiators,” Houlihan said. “We’re saying ‘thank you’ and we want it to grow.”
The clinic was a rare opportunity to meet all of the Gladiators at once. The players do quite a bit of community outreach during the season, visiting schools and hospitals, but usually in smaller groups.
“That was one of the things when I came on board, I was really adamant and I can’t give (head coach) Chuck (Weber) enough credit for supporting it — and running a station himself for two hours,” Houlihan said. “That he’s allowed this all to happen, and helped facilitate, I think is priceless.”