PORTLAND, Oregon — On Friday, the Portland Winterhawks kick off their post season after clinching their 12th consecutive WHL playoff berth. Perhaps no one is more excited about that than 17-year-old Ben Scherling, an honorary Winterhawks staff member.
“Go Winterhawks!” shouted Ben, during a recent practice at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Twice a month, Ben — who was born with Down syndrome — helps out in the equipment room assisting head equipment Manager Clayton Johns. Together, they launder, hang hockey uniforms, collect and organize water bottles.
“I think the biggest thing I've learned from Ben is to have some patience,” said Johns. “He might take a different path to getting to the same end result that I would to get there, but he still gets the job done.”
Ben’s father, Monte Scherling, is grateful for how the team has embraced Ben over the last season. He’s especially grateful for Johns, for the time and care he’s shown Ben as they learn from each other.
“Just the impression [Ben] can leave on the ones — if people who are willing to take time and the opportunity,” said Monte. “It’s there.”
Ben first connected with the Winterhawks in May 2022. Monte reached out to the team for an opportunity to let Ben sing the national anthem before a Winterhawks game. On Mother’s Day of that year, he got his chance.
“He loves to sing,” said Monte. “I was super nervous for him but he got out there and sang well.”
The Winterhawks won that game and afterward, head coach Mike Johnston knew just how to celebrate. He invited Ben and Monte into the players' locker room. The team cheered and yelled for Ben as he walked into the room.
“Hey guys!” said coach Johnston in a video captured by the team. “I told Ben that we had to get him down here if we won the game. He did an outstanding job with the anthem!” The team yelled and screamed their approval and handed Ben a cowboy hat. Ben put it on and got fist bumps from every player in the room.
“They really cheered for him and it just spoke to me in how inclusive the organization is and how accepting they were,” said Monte. “They had every reason to be cheering for their win but they chose to take time out to cheer for him.”
When Ben works around the team, he gives every player he sees a fist bump or a thumbs up.
“[Ben] always says 'Have fun out there,'” said Winterhawks Goalie Dante Giannuzzi. “I think something that gets lost when you're playing at this level, is fun.”
Winterhawks Defenseman Ryder Thompson said Ben always lifts the team’s spirits.
“Sometimes some of us will be having a bad day and that's hard to talk about,” said Thompson. “Sometimes a simple fist bump or a nice chat with Ben....it lightens up our day.”
Earlier this season after a nine-game losing streak, the Winterhawks once again called on Ben to sing the national anthem. That night the team snapped their losing streak and won.
“When he sings the national anthem, we haven't lost yet!” said Johns. “So we might have to bring him back for the playoffs again this year.”
“He's part of our family,” said Winterhawks Assistant Coach, Brian Pellerin.
“Everyone needs different voices sometimes to get the message of what hockey's about,” said Pellerin. “And more importantly, what life is about.”
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