When Brooke Weatherup ’21 moved to San Diego from Philadelphia, Penn., in 2017 she brought her passion for ice hockey with her. It’s become an even bigger experience and opportunity than she could have guessed at the time. She began volunteering with San Diego Chill, an ice hockey team for children with developmental disabilities. This year, she’s serving as a head coach.
Tell us how you got involved, and who inspired you to volunteer?
When I first moved to San Diego, my freshman year, I began playing for the La Jolla Country Day Torreys club ice hockey team, which is comprised of students from most of the local public and private schools in San Diego, not just La Jolla Country Day. I had a game at UTC Ice on a Sunday morning and, when I arrived, I saw a group of teenagers out there coaching the players. After the game, I learned that it was an ice hockey team for kids with developmental disabilities called the San Diego Chill. I went to their website that afternoon, found out how I could register to become a volunteer, and, a few weeks later, arrived back at the ice rink on a Sunday morning with only my hockey stick, skates, gloves, and helmet, ready to begin my first practice as a coach. Now I have been working with this organization for three years and, last year, at the end of my second season of coaching, I was asked to be the head coach for the 2019-2020 season. It was so unexpected, because it had never crossed my mind that they would pick me to be the leader of the program. Each Sunday, I showed up as a volunteer and did whatever the coach needed me to do, and it hadn’t occurred to me that one day that person might be me. Now I create and run the practices each week with the help of my fellow coaches with the hopes that not only are they fun for the players, but that the coaches enjoy it as well.
I was looking for something to get involved with because I was still new to the area and needed service hours for school. Since I’ve always enjoyed working with kids, and I love playing hockey, it seemed like I had stumbled across the perfect opportunity. After that first practice, I realized that it would never be about the hours for me. Since that day, I have dedicated every Sunday morning, from the first practice of the season in September to the last practice in April, to these kids and this program, and I’ve loved every single second of it.
What has been the most important thing about the program to you?
The most important thing about the program for me has been making connections with the players and the other coaches. Most of the coaches are teenage hockey players in San Diego, with many coming from my own team or teams that we play against, so I have made some amazing friendships. For the players, this team is a great community where they can make friends, work on their social skills, and be active, and their parents are able to have time to talk with each other, because we’ve gained the families’ trust by making personal connections. We try to have a one-to-one ratio of players to coaches, so we can have the same coach work with a player each week. This way they are able to bond and become friends, and the families feel they can trust the coach to work with their child on the ice for an hour.
We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that runs entirely on volunteers and donations. Most people in San Diego might not even know that there are many ice rinks and teams in their own backyard and many programs like our own that are starting up to make sure that the sport of ice hockey is accessible to everyone. Hockey has been such a positive part of my life, and I am just glad that I am able to put that love to good use.
Do you think you'll continue to stay involved with ice hockey in the future, and with this program?
I would definitely like to continue with ice hockey in the future by playing in college, although probably just at the club level. I have also made some of my best friends through hockey, and I will continue to stay in touch with them.
When I leave for college, I will likely be unable to continue with the Chill in the same way, but whenever I come back to San Diego, if I’m here on a Sunday, you will find me over at the ice rink for practice. I can honestly say that I would not be the same person I am today if I hadn’t gotten involved with this program. One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received was last year, from Emma, a young player on the team, whom I had worked with pretty much every week. When a new coach showed up for his first day, Emma ran over and introduced herself and then pulled me over and said, “This is Brooke. She’s my friend coach.” I think that sums up the idea behind this entire team. As volunteers, we’re friends to these players first, coaches second, and that is why this team will always have a special place in my heart.