Cyclones Plan Quieter, Calmer Game For Sensory Sensitive Hockey Fans

Oct 18, 2018

Professional sports can be a loud affair -- music blares, pyrotechnics boom and fans scream. The Cincinnati Cyclones are trying something different this weekend. Saturday's hockey match with the Wheeling Nailers will be a sensory friendly event.

The goal horn inside US Bank Arena will fall silent, the coliseum speakers will be turned down, and the strobe lights will stay dark. The idea is to make the event attractive to people who have autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or post-traumatic stress.

Cyclones spokesman Everett Fitzhugh says the team is expecting to see people on Saturday night who've never been to a hockey game before. "We abide by the code of 'hockey is for everyone,' " he says. "We believe that anybody can and should have the opportunity to either play or enjoy this great game of hockey. The more people that we can share this with and the more people that we can introduce this game of hockey to the better."

Fitzhugh says the event was inspired by General Manager Kristin Ropp, who knows a family with a child who has autism. "The parents always say it's very tough for them to do things as a family because they have other children," he says. "It's easy for people who don't have children with autism or any kind of disabilities. You have to plan for a lot of things if you have a child with a developmental disability."

The executive director of the Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati says sensory friendly events can be helpful if they're done right. Mary Helen Richer says there needs to be a focus on light and sound.

"It's always helpful if a place talks to either individuals with autism or organizations who work with autism so they can really understand all the accommodations that need to be made in order for it to be a successful experience, for everyone -- for the venue as well."

Richer says she's going to Saturday's game with a group of adults with autism.

Fitzhugh says away from the rink, there will be sensory sensitive tents and a tactile touch zone. "We've also done staff training," he says. "Children's Hospital came last week and talked with our front office staff and our game day operations people; put them all through a two-hour training to help us all learn more about these types of kids and what we're going to be experiencing." 

He says this is the first time a sensory friendly sporting event has been planned in the Cincinnati area, but says other ECHL and college teams have done it.

"This is going to be a one-time thing for this season, but it is something that we have definitely put at the top of our list moving forward into the off season, into next season, about scheduling another night like this," Fitzhugh says.

He adds other teams have contacted the Cyclones and are curious about putting on their own similar event.