Tom Rathbone

Tom Rathbone stands on the ice at Skate Frederick on Sunday during the lower-division semi-final match. The weekend tournament featured eight teams and raised money for the Frederick Rescue Mission to buy backpacks and school supplies for low-income and homeless families in Frederick County.

When it’s time to go back to school parents and students visit the store to buy pencils and notebooks, but for some low-income families in Frederick County the cost of school supplies is too high.

Brad Gurda, a middle school science teacher and member of the adult Hockey Donkeys league, knows how expensive school supplies can be, but he also knows a group of people willing to help. On Sunday, eight adult hockey teams finished a weekend tournament that raised $5,000 for the Frederick Rescue Mission and will help buy over 100 backpacks for the upcoming school year.

“It’s super personal, because it hits home in my professional career and hockey life,” Gurda said.

The Hockey Donkeys select a charity to donate the proceeds of its tournament to each year. In the past, they have made donations to a hospice center, cancer foundation and special needs hockey team, but when Wendy Hockey approached the league about selecting the Frederick Rescue Mission, it quickly became a strong fit.

Hockey lives in Damascus with her husband David, and together they have three grown children. All five members of the family hit the ice together on Sunday in the lower-division semi-final match.

“The fact that my kids choose to come home from college and play with us is priceless,” Hockey said.

Not too many years ago, though, she could recall volunteering at her children’s schools and preparing them with pencils, pens and notebooks. She also remembers classmates with less means having to constantly ask to borrow supplies.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said.

Knowing that students — who would otherwise be without school supplies — would now be showing up on their first day ready with a backpack, pencils and paper, made the day even more special for her family.

“So everyone’s on an equal playing field,” Hockey said.

Facilitating a fair and community-minded league, on and off the ice, is what underpins the Hockey Donkeys organization.

“You want the next group of kids — or next generation of Hockey Donkeys — to know it’s not about crushing the competition, but [being there] for the community,” Gurda said.

He too is getting ready to go back to his classroom at an aerospace magnet school in Rockville. Last year, he estimates he handed out over 500 pencils to his students; many of whom qualify for free or reduced price meals.

What is nice about teaming up with the Frederick Rescue Mission this year, is that it was easy to explain to donors what would be bought after the fundraiser, he said.

“Everybody’s gone to school,” Gurda said. “They know what they need.”

Around 1 p.m. on Sunday, Gurda was excited to reveal how much money had been raised by the Hockey Donkeys. Initially, the Frederick Rescue Mission had asked for money to purchase 100 backpacks, and he was happy to report the organization had far exceeded that amount.

“Everybody wants to be here to have fun and raise money,” Gurda said.

Follow Samantha Hogan on Twitter: @SAHogan

Samantha Hogan is the state house, environment, agriculture and energy reporter for The Frederick News-Post.

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