A young autistic man who played for ten years on standard hockey teams had to leave his recreational league due to the discriminatory attitude of his coaches, his family denounces.
“He has the right to play hockey (…) For him, during these brief 60 minutes (of play), he was not autistic, he was normal,” says Paride Casale, the young man’s father.
Dante Casale, 18 years old, is passionate about hockey. He has played since he was 8 years old, in several teams led by different coaches.
In January he played his last game with the Midget B team of the Monteuil Laval Association, after being indirectly defeated by his coaches.
Like his entire family, Dante believes he was the victim of “unfair” treatment because he suffers from autism spectrum disorder.
“He doesn’t have the best chance, but curseAt least he knows how to shoot on goal,” exclaims his brother Noah Casale, who played on the same team before leaving in solidarity.
Smiling and willing, Dante respects the rules, but sometimes has difficulty understanding them. This has never been a problem in the past, his family says.
At the beginning of the season he joined a junior level team, which brings together players between 18 and 21 years old. For his safety, the league offered to lower him to the Midget B level team, which brings together young people from 15 to 17 years old, of which his brother Noah was a part.
This is where the tensions began. However, this was the level at which he already played last year, when Mr. Casale was the coach.
From the beginning, his two new coaches and certain parents were faced with the idea of taking in a player with limitations.
“His idea was already thought up,” says Sylvie Millette, Dante’s mother.
“I told them, ‘You’re going to live with it,'” says Claudio Quaglieri, president of the Monteuil Laval Association. But this decision quickly earned him a wave of criticism.
“They were endless emails. They called us all kinds of things. “It was really unpleasant,” summarizes Quaglieri.
Agreements were reached: Dante would no longer participate in tournaments or training. Additionally, during regular games, he was only sent to the ice for a few seconds per period.
Because Dante needed help tying his skates, his father or one of his brothers often helped him in the locker room, which would have embarrassed other players, according to Hockey Laval.
But, according to Noé, it would be a pretext invoked by adults to better exclude his brother. “I asked (my teammates) and they all said, ‘You barely notice when your dad is around.'”
The tension went up a notch during a game in which Dante spent the entire time on the bench. Surprised by such a decision, Casale asked one of the coaches where he worked, which was interpreted as intimidation.
“That was never my intention,” Casale apologizes. “My goal was to understand how someone educated like him (could act like that).”
Therefore, both coaches resigned just before Christmas. At this point in the season it was no longer possible to find other certified coaches to replace them, explains Quaglieri.
Dante’s parents decided to remove him from the team so as not to punish the other players, who had nothing to do with it and who had welcomed the young man.
“The coaches and the association did not “tampon” Dante,” Martine Deschamps, general director of Hockey Laval, indicates by email. They would rather have expressed concern for his safety, she adds.
The growth of adapted leagues does not solve everything
The proliferation of adapted sports leagues should not serve as an excuse to exclude different young people in the name of the “madness” of victory, the speakers remind us.
“I would like everything to go back to the way it was (on last year’s team),” admits Dante Casale.
For a few weeks now he has been part of a hockey league adapted to young people with autism, an option that is growing throughout Quebec.
“It is run by extraordinary people,” highlights his father, Paride Casale.
But for Dante, adaptive hockey doesn’t make him feel like he’s playing real games or feel “normal” from time to time, as was the case in standard equipment.
It is not an isolated case
His case is not isolated, although there are no statistics on the matter, says Lili Plourde, general director of the Quebec Autism Federation.
“This is not the first time I have heard that, due to a change of person or manager, a young person will lose their place on an inappropriate team,” he says.
“Many young people feel at home on regular teams, but they are often victims of bullying from others and also from coaches,” adds M.me Plourde.
However, Hockey Quebec’s Code of Ethics stipulates that the coach must “ensure that everyone is treated equally,” regardless of “age,” “athletic potential,” or “handicap.”
It is not always easy for untrained volunteer coaches to integrate players who have limitations, admits Jocelyn Thibault, general director of Hockey Quebec.
But very often two visions collide: one that wants to include all young people so that they can develop and one that wants to win at all costs.
“People often see it more as competitive than recreational,” Thibault says.
This is also the explanation given by Noah Casale, Dante’s brother. “What the coaches wanted was to win.”
“Parents are crazy!” exclaims Sylvie Millette, Dante’s mother, who is surprised that adults have a harder time accepting a young man who is different than children.
“The only thing I want is for these coaches to no longer be able to train and for the sports associations to assume their responsibilities,” concludes Paride Casale. The Monteuil Laval association also indicates that it has no intention of using the services of the same coaches next year.
But for Hockey Laval, “this case has no link to discrimination based on disability,” says general director Martine Deschamps.
The Casale family is considering contacting the Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission.