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Springfield second-grader learns social skills through hockey

Springfield News-Sun - 3/15/2020

Mar. 15--A second-grader at Snyder Park Elementary School has socially blossomed and his mother says it is because of hockey and two high school students.

Cameron Bessery is seven years old and has high-functioning autism.

His parents Destiny and Michael Bessery tried to teach him how to skate because he is from a hockey family, but Destiny said they were unsuccessful.

"We were trying to teach him to skate and he was struggling a lot with it," Destiny said. "So we signed him up for special hockey."

The Bessery family drives to Cincinnati every Sunday during hockey season for Cameron to play for the Cincinnati Cyclones Special Hockey program.

During an open house two years ago, Cameron learned to skate.

Destiny said he was paired with Alex Hill, a hockey player at St. Xavier High School, and they immediately connected. Hill taught Cameron basic skating skills like learning to stand, skate backwards, and pass a puck.

"Cameron's pretty shy with people he doesn't know. It was really nice to finally see him build a bond," Destiny said. "Eventually it led to his social skills completely blossoming."

The Cincinnati Cyclones Special Hockey program invites hockey players from St. Xavier to volunteer with the program.

"Just seeing him grow into the person he's becoming -- not only as a hockey player, which is really cool to see," Hill said. "He's socializing more and establishing friendships."

Cameron has also created a bond with another St. Xavier hockey player, Liam DeGroft.

"He was super easy to teach and loves learning hockey. He has just gotten so much better compared to a year ago," DeGroft said. "There is nothing more awarding than seeing him happy because I know hockey is one of his favorite things."

Hill and DeGroft do other activities with Cameron besides hockey. Destiny said they play video games, go to hockey games and do other fun activities like Dave & Buster's.

"It's worth it for the drive because of the connections," Destiny said. "Those two boys go above and beyond for him. Those two families, I can't even describe it -- without their parents none of this would be possible."

The Cincinnati Cyclones Special Hockey program is the first special hockey program in the Greater Cincinnati Area and welcomes anyone age six years or older regardless of developmental disability or skill level.

Cameron is the goaltender and has played in several tournament games throughout Ohio.

"He is constantly hockey-involved and it's nice because he is wanting to socialize a lot with us. He wants us to play with him and he's reaching out," Destiny said. "He really looks forward to Sundays."

Cameron's dream is to play hockey for St. Xavier, Destiny said.

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