The members of the Sacred Heart University Pioneers Men’s Ice Hockey Team gathered in a meeting room at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport to officially welcome their newest teammate on Tuesday, Sept. 24.
The team met Amity High School student Zakarai Schneider, 16, of Bethany, last season, and a few weeks ago he geared up and joined them on the ice.
“When we first met Zak, you could feel an instant connection between him and the players,”Coach C.J. Marottolo said.
Zakarai, who is well-known in the Amity High community, was passing the puck with the guys and blew Marottolo away when he scored a goal.
Now, you may think, big deal, high school players score goals all the time, what’s so special about this kid?
Well, Zakarai (I’ve always called him Zak) was diagnosed with a neurological disorder at birth. Doctors said he would never be able to walk, yet with hard work and determination, he not only walks but runs and ice skates. He is non-verbal, but his devoted father, Mark seems to understand every thought and emotion his son has and is quick to share them with you.
“You are all his heroes,” Mark told the team.
This opportunity was made possible by Team Impact, a national nonprofit headquartered in Boston, MA that connects children facing serious or chronic illnesses with college athletic teams, forming lifelong bonds and life-changing outcomes. Since 2011, Team IMPACT has matched more than 1,800 children with their dream teams.
The Schneiders and the Pioneers connected last season, but Tuesday was extremely special. Zak became the first young man formally connected to a Sacred Heart team through Team Impact,
Dressed in a suit, with shirt and tie to match the SHU school colors, Zak signed a letter of intent during the Team IMPACT “Draft Day” ceremony, surrounded by his teammates, coach, family and several members of the media.
Team Captain Jason Cotton, presented him with his Pioneers jersey, Zak seemed a little overwhelmed. Coach Marotolli led him to the locker room where he geared up, then Zak and his fellow players posed for a team photo. Then Zakarai, AKA “Zak Attack” led the Pioneers out onto the ice, where he was immediately at home.
It was so heartwarming to see this group of handsome, athletic young men treating their new teammate like an equal, and cheering for him when he made a goal during the beginning of their practice. Zak welcomed the fist bumps and cheers as the Pioneers surrounded him near the net.
“Zakarai is such an amazing kid,” said coach Marotollo. “The determination that he shows and the smile he has every time he steps foot on the ice brings great energy and will lift our spirit up as a team this season.”
Cotton led the team in welcoming Zak with open arms. “Zakarai is going to be a part of our team just like everyone else. He wanted the signing to be even bigger by having it in the middle of intermission at the UCONN game,” he said with a smile.
Marottolo watched his new player from the stands. He said Zak’s positive attitude, enthusiasm and dedication to the game make him a perfect fit for the Pioneers Hockey Team. “His smile just lit up everybody on the ice. That’s why you do this. That’s why you get involved,” he said.
As a team member, Zak will attend Pioneers practices, games, team dinners, events, and more.
Amity High School and the athletes on the Football and Hockey teams gave Zak his first taste of being an honored member of their teams. So the shift to SHU is a natural step up for one of our favorite Amity teens.
SHU hockey opens its 2019-20 campaign on Saturday, October 5 at home, versus UConn. The game will be played at Webster Bank Arena with puck drop scheduled for 7:05 pm.