Bill Moxey

(Reprinted from the Toronto Star - Michele Henry)


Bill "Coach" Moxey is getting everyone's attention. He strikes the side of the rink with his hockey stick. His players skate into position, gliding anxiously on the spot. They start a drill of hitting pucks.

"Harder shot," the coach yells, as one-by-one the players attack the puck, skate the length of the rink and return to their places for another go.

Moxey's cheeks flush as he watches his pupils, who are all mentally challenged – he's proud.

"When I see them do what they're supposed to do it makes my day," says the 65-year-old, who retired earlier this year from G.E. Shnier, where he occupied many different positions with the flooring company. "Sometimes it might take two years, then all of a sudden something in their mind clicks ... that makes it all worthwhile."

His satisfaction at watching their progress has moved Moxey to teach new skills to these sports enthusiasts for five hours each week for nearly 30 years.

A fixture on the ice every Saturday morning during the winter and on the baseball diamond in the summer, Moxey has coached more than a thousand mentally challenged sports lovers over his three decades of volunteer service.

Besides Moxey's patience and dedication to the players, who range widely in age, size and skill level, his involvement in the program amazes many of the participants' parents because the coach doesn't have a mentally challenged child.

"He volunteers out of the goodness of his heart," says Bob Batt, whose son has benefited from 16 years of Saturdays with Moxey. "Plus he's a family man himself. He has his own kids."

As a pat on the back for all Moxey's good work, when the Star asked readers to nominate deserving community builders, Batt passed on his name. To his surprise, Moxey was also nominated by another person – his wife Sandra Moxey, 52. She calls her husband an "angel," because he nursed her back to health after cancer claimed her vocal cords a few years ago.

Moxey took up his post as "head coach" for the Grandravine Tornadoes Special Hockey Program in the late 1970s after friends coaxed him to get involved.

Already a hockey coach for his son Greg's team, Moxey was easily persuaded to take on the task because he didn't think it was fair certain children weren't allowed on the ice.

"We used to say, `why don't they come out and skate with the kids,'" Moxey says, recalling how the special-needs siblings of children on Greg's hockey team had to settle for being spectators.

Children from as far as Oshawa, Durham and Georgetown would flock to Moxey's free Saturday morning lessons, which have since spawned similar programs throughout North America, he says.

While challenging at times, Moxey explains the experience has rewarded him handsomely with many on-ice hugs over the years. Even when at times he must use harsh words, such as "I'm going to have to send you off the ice," the players deliver an affectionate "I'm sorry coach."

Michael Liotta says part of Moxey's success with the special players comes from the way he communicates with them.

"He treats them like anyone else," says the parent, whose son Mark is autistic. "He talks to them like any other coach would. He doesn't coddle anyone."

It's because of that, explains Mark Liotta, that Moxey is adored by all.

"He's real friendly and he's a heck of a coach," the 19-year-old says. "He encourages all the players to do well."