Calendar Icon May 11, 2022 Person Bust Icon By Emily Case
After a hiatus, the Annual Lawn Mower Clinic came roaring back to life this year. Members tuned up 31 mowers and, through goodwill donations and club funds, were able to contribute $1,000 to the Nebraska Warriors Hockey Program.
The Nebraska Warriors team is an adaptive sport program that provides a supportive atmosphere specifically for disabled veterans to improve behaviors, skills and functions.
The clinic got connected with the hockey program through Brandon Harris-Miller, a fifth-year Agricultural Engineering (AGEN) major.
“I work in the tractor test lab with (junior AGEN major) Quinton Bock and I’ve talked about the hockey program,” he said. “I think a lot of the students and my advisor have recognized the change in me from the quiet kid who barely shows his face to, ‘he’s outgoing, he’s happy’ — and I can directly attribute that to the Warriors program.”
When Brandon Harris-Miller slid onto the ice for his first practice, he had only skated three times beforehand. But that didn’t matter, thanks to the supportive team atmosphere.
“I’m the only university kid on the team. I recognize how valuable it’s been for my education,” he said. “Getting on the ice, burning those calories is so important.”
Having an outlet and a team working toward a common goal has helped build his confidence. He’s grown from someone who had limited knowledge of ice sports to the team’s forward and marketing director.
Harris-Miller isn’t the only one of his teammates who’s grown from the experience. There are 72 members, and the group is open to anyone regardless of age or gender. It’s sanctioned through USA Hockey, with Warriors teams in other states that also work with disabled veterans.
“The confidence, the camaraderie — people don’t realize what that means to members of the military, but to me it’s everything,” he said.
Harris-Miller served in the Air Force from 2005-2011, and he said the team has helped him bond with others who’ve gone through similar experiences, such as serving in Iraq.
“When you’re a veteran you feel like you are lost sometimes, but getting pulled in by people who have experienced the same thing as you, that’s helpful,” he said.
The team practices once a week, alternating between rinks in Omaha and Lincoln, and plays year-round in exhibition games. Harris-Miller’s first exposure to that was at the Icebox, the Lincoln Stars’ home turf.
“The Lincoln Stars does a military appreciation night; we go play a team before they play,” he said. “They had the lights turned off and a spotlight on the ice — that was my first game and it was so neat.”
Almost five months into the program, Harris-Miller wants to make sure anyone who wants to can join the team. He’s working with the UNL Military and Veteran Success Center to get the word out on campus about this opportunity.
He also wants to make sure any financial challenges can be overcome, since hockey incurs significant costs. While the team has screen printing equipment to provide a source of revenue, it costs about $350 to rent an ice rink for an hour of practice. A full set of hockey gear costs upwards of $1,000.
“All the money we’re raising is used to try to lower the barrier of entry for anyone that wants to get into the program,” he said. “My goal is that if you are connected, you shouldn’t have to pay a dollar because hockey’s really, really expensive.”
The money donated by BSE will go straight into hockey operations, he said. Immediate costs include renting ice rinks for practice, as well as travel costs for the HF Festival in St. Cloud, Minn., a tournament hosted by the USA Warriors Ice Hockey program.
The Lawn Mower Clinic is hosted by the UNL ASABE Student Club and Tractor Restoration Club. Deepak Keshwani is the faculty advisor.