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Biology Major Fulfills Passions for Hockey, Special Needs Community

YCP Hockey and Polar Bears Ice Hockey

York College Men's Ice Hockey Club member Cody Doherty ’22 volunteers with the Polar Bears, a York-based hockey team for youth with special needs.

Cody Doherty ’22 didn’t have any interest in ice hockey until his twin wanted to play. His competitive spirit kicked in, so he joined a team to keep up with his brother. To his surprise, he loved it.

While playing in high school, Cody had two friends who played for the Mercer Bulldogs, a hockey team for youth with special needs. He began to get involved with the Bulldogs and learned how valuable these types of teams are.

When it comes to “kids with special needs, there are not too many outlets that they can participate in to be themselves,” Cody says. “This provides them a chance to, first and foremost, make friends, then to have a smile on their face, to feel like a kid, to laugh.”

After high school, Cody began working toward his goal of attending medical school and becoming a doctor. He wanted to find a college with both a strong Biology program and an ice hockey team. He found both at York College of Pennsylvania.

Hockey for all

After joining the York College Men's Ice Hockey Club, Cody connected with the Polar Bears, a York-based hockey team for youth with special needs. He brought his experiences with the Mercer Bulldogs and began encouraging his teammates to get more involved. Cody spends his free time attending Polar Bears games and assisting where he can.

“I want to connect that bridge between mainstream and those with special needs—to be someone for them and hopefully spark others to do the same,” Cody says. 

Today, the York College Hockey Club has a different member of the Polar Bears as its honorary team captain at each home game. That player usually shows up to the game wearing the Club jersey, skates with the team, and gets to join them in the locker room to hear the coach’s speech. After a few minutes of warm-up, the honorary captain gets fist bumps from the other team, and then sticks around in the stands for the game.

All in good fun

In December 2021, the York College team was invited to play a game with the Polar Bears. “I am proud to say that it did not take more than 30 seconds for our students to say ‘Absolutely yes!’ to this request,” says Richard Guinan, the team’s head coach.

On the day of the game, the teams split so that each side was half Polar Bears and half York College students. Then, they hit the ice and had a great time. “Seeing the smiles on the faces was inspiring to say the least,” Guinan says.

For Cody, the highlight was lining up for fist bumps after the game. As the teams skated past each other, “you could see the smiles and enjoyment that they all had,” he says.

Cody also loved getting to see his teammates sitting on the sidelines with the Polar Bears, interacting with each other one-on-one and learning more about their individual interests and activities.

Being involved with the Polar Bears has been a humbling experience, Cody says, and it’s helped shape his outlook on life. “I get to see the opportunities I’ve been given,” he says.

Playing ice hockey will probably have to end after undergraduate school for Cody. While medical school won’t likely allow much time for sports, he does hope to continue to use what he’s learned and experienced with the Polar Bears to carry on working with youth with special needs.

Whether that’s finding a team with special needs and giving it as much time as he can or connecting in a different way, Cody hopes to press on with the lessons he’s learned through his ice hockey experience.