Gabrielle Roy Cavaliers Honour Riley Weir

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Coach Colin David and Riley Weir, wearing the Cavaliers hardhat. Joel Mangin

Fifteen-year-old Riley Weir is an all-around kind of guy. He is a floor hockey goalie, competes in track, and has his red belt in taekwondo. He sings and plays guitar, acts in high school dramas, and gets involved in school life wherever possible. To the staff and students of École Gabrielle Roy in Île-des-Chênes, it would seem that Riley loves everyone and everyone loves Riley.

Riley Weir is also a special needs student.

More than anything else, though, Riley loves hockey. Few have witnessed this more keenly than Gab-Roy Cavaliers hockey coach Colin David. David, also the high school’s English teacher, has forged a special connection with Riley since he first came to the school almost two years ago. Rarely a day went by without them sharing an update on hockey stats or player trades. 

A year ago, David decided to invite Riley to join the school hockey team. But Riley can’t skate, requiring David to invent a position for him on the team.

“Riley always talked about wanting to play hockey but wasn’t able to, so we discussed him joining the team to help the coaches,” says David. “We made him the team water boy. He takes it very seriously.”

And according to David, so do Riley’s teammates. Right from the beginning, the Cavaliers team embraced Riley, including him in everything, even after-game pizza parties.

Since he began his position as team water boy, Riley’s responsibilities have grown. He is now the keeper of the locker room key, making sure the team gets in and out of the locker room promptly before and after games. Riley also keeps track of shots on goal at every game, providing important stats for the coaches, and he manages the medical kit, making sure supplies are available in case of injury. Maybe most importantly, he is the fist-bump guy, offering needed encouragement to each player as they skate on and off the ice. 

“Everybody expects Riley to be there now and [he’s] a part of our everyday practice routine,” David says. “If Riley’s not there then everyone is asking about him. It’s not forced. It’s very genuine.”

And if Riley had any doubts that he was a valuable member of the team, he doesn’t now. Recently, the team captain awarded him with the team hardhat—an honour reserved for the team’s hardest working player. 

“That was a pretty special moment because Riley was completely shocked,” says David. “Everyone started cheering and chanting his name and he was all smiles.”

The team’s hardhat is bedecked with the Cavaliers logo and has been a tradition for a while now. David begins the season by awarding the hat to the player he decides has put in the greatest amount of effort and put the team before himself. At the next game, the holder of the hardhat in turn gets to nominate the player he feels did the same. This continues through every game of the season.

At the end of this season, the hardhat was placed in the hands of the team member whom everyone agreed had put in an invaluable effort throughout the entire season: Riley. 

Like any hockey fan, Riley has a hockey hero: Andrew Ladd. And the reason for his long-time loyalty is as good as any. 

“I met him at Special Olympics [Manitoba],” says Riley. 

Special Olympics Manitoba offers year-round sport-training programs and competitive opportunities around the province in a variety of sports, a few of which Riley participates in on a weekly basis. Riley was introduced to Ladd, the former Winnipeg Jets captain, at a track meet when Ladd made an appearance to do a commercial shoot. It’s a day Riley won’t quickly forget and his loyalty to Ladd has remained constant, even after his move to the New York Islanders. 

And just like Ladd, Riley has his own personal cheering squad: his parents. Joey and Nicole Weir spend much of their time driving Riley to his many practices, games, and music lessons.

“There’s nothing that holds him back,” says Nicole. “If he wants to do something, he’ll go ahead and do it. He doesn’t care what anybody else thinks. It’s pretty awesome.”

Riley’s parents could have never anticipated the vibrant and active young man he would become. Their son was diagnosed with a condition called 18p Minus syndrome, a rare chromosomal disorder, when he was three years old. At the time, even the family doctor had never heard of it. 

Apart from one education session in Texas early on, the Weirs have had to learn as they go, watching Riley struggle through childhood milestones, and seeking out speech and physiotherapists to help him along the way.

“There’s been a lot of challenges along the way, but he’s overcome so much,” says Nicole. “He’s very kind and persevering, dedicated and happy. He’s known [to his peers] as Smiley Riley.”

While David may not have fully anticipated the impact his decision to include Riley would make, he can see the amazing benefits that have come from it.

“For someone like Riley who eats, sleeps, and breathes hockey, it’s pretty great for our school to find a way to accommodate him [by making him] a part of this hockey program,” David says. “And I really feel like he’s getting something out of this. He’s making new friends, and it’s really good for these young players to learn how to accept everyone and make them feel a part of the team.”

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