Though they no longer fight for their country, these local veterans are honored to fight for a team full of men and women who have.
The Nebraska Warriors Hockey Program is a nonprofit team comprised of both abled and disabled veterans from all branches of the military.
The team was created in February as a way for veterans to have fun in a competitive environment, but more importantly, come together.
While hockey is the main activity, Ryan Hignight of Bellevue, team marketing director and player, said there is much more than skating involved.
“It’s about ice hockey but it’s more than that,” Hignight said. “It’s about giving these veterans who served our country an opportunity to associate with those like them and who have had a similar experience.”
On and off the ice, Hignight said, the team demonstrates constant support for each other.
“As a team, we are striving to improve the lives of our members,” he said. “We want to promote an environment that is similar to the ones we had when serving because everybody on the team is a veteran.”
The team is made up of 40 players from across Sarpy County, Ralston and other nearby communities, regardless of athletic ability.
Even if it’s a participant’s first time on the ice, he will be accepted and encouraged to play no matter what, Hignight said.
Hignight said he is one of the least-skilled players on the team, but his teammates welcomed him with open arms.
“My teammates push me and my coaches push me to excel on the ice,” he said. “They coach me and mentor me both on and off the ice to be better.”
From 10% to 100% ability, the team welcomes all veterans to participate.
“We are always willing to accept new veterans, regular veterans or disabled at all skill levels,” he said.
Practices are year-round every other week either at the Ralston Arena or in Lincoln.
The team competes against other Warrior Hockey teams from across the country.
“Handling a puck with everybody on the ice and people in the crowd staring at you can be unnerving, but these guys encourage you to do it and support you when you do,” Hignight said.
Whether it’s learning how to better control the puck or getting advice on a personal problem from a friend, the Nebraska Warriors pride themselves on camaraderie.
“We want to make sure everybody has someone else to rely on, a shoulder to lean on when life gets tough. It’s a support group as well as an ice hockey team,” Hignight said.
Hignight takes pride in putting on the jersey and hitting the ice with his fellow veterans, he said.
“The normal public doesn’t always understand what we’ve been through. It gives us an opportunity to be greater than ourselves like we did when we served,” he said. “I get to interact with people who have put their lives on the line and made sacrifices. Words just don’t describe how happy that makes me.”
To get involved or to donate to the organization, visit nebraskawarriors.com.