Hockey: Wolfe, Stevenson play harder in Ethan's honor
Whenever he scores, Stevenson senior captain Daniel Wolfe points to the sky amid his celebration. It's Wolfe's simple salute to his late younger brother, Ethan.
"I know that Ethan is watching over me, and every goal I score is in his memory," said Wolfe, a Buffalo Grove resident in his second season on the Patriots' varsity.
Born with a rare genetic syndrome known as Charge syndrome, Ethan passed away in 2014 at age 12. He was born legally deaf and blind, with swallowing and mobility issues throughout his life.
"But these challenges did not stop him from accomplishing many things that doctors said he wouldn't be able to do, such as walking, eating and communicating through sign language," Wolfe said.
Ethan passed from medical complications from Charge. While Wolfe called it "deeply saddening and greatly unexpected for my family and me," they took solace now knowing that Ethan was truly happy throughout his life and will forever be in their hearts.
And for Wolfe and his Stevenson teammates, Ethan also is honored with a patch on their home jerseys.
"Ethan was the single most impactful person in my life," Wolfe said. "(Due to) his disability, I had more responsibilities than most kids my age. I sat through countless physical and occupational therapy appointments, learned how to speak sign language to communicate with him, and feeding him through his G-tube. His resilience inspired me."
Such that, for three years Wolfe has worked at a camp for kids with special needs, consistently volunteering for the Charge Syndrome Foundation and setting up charity events benefiting Charge.
"(Since) I had to deal with the death of my sibling, it taught me to be fortunate for the time I have," Wolfe said. "Ethan taught me to not let any obstacle get in my way."
When Ethan was 3, the Wolfe family took their first trip together to an International Charge Conference. Daniel said it was "a life-changing experience" for all, particularly since they got the chance to find out information about Ethan's condition as well as connect with families from around the world that face similar challenges.
They have since attended every biennial conference, even becoming more involved with the Foundation. Daniel's dad has served on the board of directors for the past nine years and president for the past six years. His mom volunteers as the director of administration, and Daniel has volunteered for the past six years.
After Ethan's passing, the family funded and established the Ethan Wolfe Recreational Assistance Program, which provides individuals with Charge the opportunity to purchase recreational equipment or participate in recreational activities.
"We believe that everyone deserves the chance to play," Wolfe said. "Ethan taught me to be a better person and to be kind to others. No matter what Ethan was going through, he always had a big smile on his face, and because of Ethan, I never take anything for granted. I also know how important it is to help others and support charitable activities. I know that I honor his memory by how I live my life."
Daniel said Ethan's disability gave them "the ability to communicate and interact in ways that other siblings could not." The two played card and computer games together, and Daniel helped Ethan with his homework and therapy.
"I wouldn't want to have it any other way," Wolfe said.
Stevenson head coach Tom Wood said Wolfe is truly an integral part of the team's success, on and off the ice.
"We use him in all facets of the game, including power play, penalty kill, and even strength (situations)," Wood said. "He helps provide scoring when we need it, and he is a great defensive forward when we need to shut down the opposing team. Daniel was the overwhelming choice of his teammates to be captain, and he has done a great job in leading the team so far both on and off the ice."
The Patriots stand at 6-8, and Wolfe has 3 goals, 3 assists. He skates alongside senior center Jason Roseman and junior right wing Roey Kleiman.
"I would categorize myself as two-way forward," Wolfe said. "I'm probably not the guy who is going to score a hat trick a game, but you can rely on me to play smart two-way hockey and set up the scorers on our team.
"I pride myself (in) the fact that I can play multiple positions on the ice. Coach Wood (had) me as a center to start the season and I have alternated playing right and left wing throughout the early parts of the season, and also play defense on our power play unit."
Wolfe also has officiated youth hockey games.
"(It's) given me the opportunity to see (the sport from) a different point of view," he said. "Reffing is much harder than it looks from the bench and from the stands."
Whether he's playing or reffing, it's all good for Wolfe. He knows his kid brother is smiling down on him.