By Gus LaZear, VP & General Manager, Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center
Photo by Alexis Bowen
Over the last two years, the Arizona Coyotes Foundation has been very generous in supporting the Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center, youth programs in particular. In March 2015, the Foundation partnered with Ability360 to host Family Hockey Night. The Coyotes committed to having their mascot, Howler, attend the event. When the announcement was made that Howler was coming to Family Hockey Night, Robyn Broyles, mom to Phoenix, a youth participant at Ability360, sent an email to the Sports & Fitness Center. She explained that Phoenix had a fear of mascots, and asked the Sports & Fitness Center if Phoenix might have some extra time with Howler at the event to help overcome his fear. She and Phoenix had been watching Behind the Mask on Hulu, a documentary on sports mascots, in an attempt to help him conquer his fear. Emails were exchanged between all three parties – Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center, the Coyotes and the Broyles – with unanimous agreement that Phoenix and Howler would meet at the event and spend some extra time together.
When the day came in March, Howler arrived early, as did Phoenix and his family. They all met in a private area, with Center staff on hand to help if needed. As it turned out, no assistance was necessary. Howler went right to work and first introduced himself as the person behind the mask. He then proceeded to show Phoenix all the gear that it took to become Howler. Howler was extremely patient in his explanations and eagerly answered all questions. In no time, Phoenix was wearing pieces of the costume himself! Now that’s a transformation! Phoenix led Howler hand in hand onto the court where Family Hockey Night was underway!
Over the following months, Phoenix met up with Howler at a Coyotes game and at a special presentation during Duel in the Desert where Howler presented Phoenix with a Coyotes jersey. In addition, Phoenix was a big part of the check presentation from the Coyotes to the Sports & Fitness Center for a 2015-2016 grant. Phoenix has truly become Howler’s number one fan.
Where else would this be possible than at Ability360? We want to thank the Arizona Coyotes Foundation for their support; Howler for his patience, kindness and willingness to go the extra mile; and Phoenix for his continued bravery. Recently, while participating at the Sports & Fitness Center, Phoenix said, “This place feels like home.” Well, that says it all. We couldn’t ask for a bigger compliment.
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VP & General Manager, Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center
LaZear’s background includes more than 18 years of experience managing major programs and initiatives in rehabilitative medicine, recreational therapy, outdoor adventures and other adaptive programming for people with disabilities. For the last six years, LaZear handled responsibilities as lead therapeutic recreational therapist at the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. LaZear earned a master’s of Business Administration, with an emphasis in Health Systems Management, from Grand Canyon University and a Bachelor of Science in Therapeutic Recreation from California State University Northridge.