Last week, ahead of a hockey game between W.T. Woodson and Robinson, the teams held a joint practice. A third club involved in the workout provided even more motivation.

Among a sea of blue and white sweaters was bright orange donned by the NOVA Cool Cats, a local hockey team for kids and young adults with developmental disabilities. The Cool Cats were founded by Randy Brawley in 2004 so his son, who was diagnosed with autism, could play the sport.


“Spending time with the Cool Cats really gives the players a lesson on the attributes of resilience, dedication, effort and just the genuine happiness that the Cool Cats kids have for just running drills and your typical practice,” said David Funaro, chairman of the Woodson Ice Hockey Club. “It really rubs off in a positive way for our team.”


The relationship between Woodson and the Cool Cats dates from 2010, when Woodson hosted its first practice with the group. Every year since, Woodson has welcomed the Cool Cats to Mount Vernon Rec Center to work through stickhandling, shooting and skating drills.

Woodson expanded the tradition this year and partnered with Robinson to provide additional mentors. It was a good way for the Capital Scholastic Hockey League rivals to break the ice before their matchup Friday, which Woodson won, 9-5, behind four goals from senior Nathan Coons.

Woodson's Cameron Funaro, left, helps Robert Davenhall with a drill during practice. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

“I thought there would be a lot more fights and tension,” Woodson senior Sean Hanson said of the unusual joint practice. “… I figured it would be a little more aggressive, but it was a lot of fun.”

Robinson sophomore Sam Walker said the Wednesday practice gave his team a jolt to play more inspired two days later.

The clubs ran warmup drills together before breaking into six small groups that focused on fundamentals, from skating to stopping and shooting. The players spent about 10 minutes at each station before the whistle blew, signaling them to move to the next one.


“The main one was the butt bumpers in the middle — we just skate back until we run into each other’s butts,” Hanson said. “It’s a good old mite drill we used to do, so it was fun to do it again, number one, and then teaching them how to do it.”

Typically timid on the ice, the Cool Cats’ oldest player, Bob Opiela, furiously skated alongside Woodson and Robinson players. “Situations like this where regular kids get involved with our kids is where the growing happens,” said Wally Reed, an assistant coach for the Cool Cats who learned to skate at age 40 so he could use his skills as a special-education teacher to help grow the program.

Woodson’s victory Friday was its first, bringing its record to 1-2-1. Robinson dropped to 0-5-0.

Members of the Robinson and Woodson hockey teams pose with the Cool Cats after the joint practice. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

I want to thank everyone who has been involved. It is great to see it grow over the years. The two coaches who started the first practice was Gil Egan and Keith Dean. I meant the from officiating with the SHOA, Southeastern Hockey Officials Association. It has been another way the hockey community has supported the NOVA Cool Cats Special Hockey, Inc.

Coach Randy