Vets, Troops Can Get Free Sports Gear for Their Kids. Here's How.

Calvin Stubbs, front, 6, and Alex Parsley, back, 9, stand in line to hit hockey pucks during the Pensacola, Florida Ice Flyers’ visit to the Hurlburt Field youth center. (Air Force/Julianne Showalter)
Calvin Stubbs, front, 6, and Alex Parsley, back, 9, stand in line to hit hockey pucks during the Pensacola, Florida Ice Flyers’ visit to the Hurlburt Field youth center. (Air Force/Julianne Showalter)

There's nothing cheap about kids and sports, but one Minnesota-based nonprofit is trying to make kinetic activities for military and veteran kids just a little more affordable by giving away free gear.

Founded in 2009, United Heroes League (UHL) outfits military-connected youth with gear and grants for hockey, baseball, basketball, football, golf, lacrosse and soccer. Anyone who has ever outfitted a growing child for one of those sports knows the price tag can be hundreds of dollars per year. Add in ice time or other fees and you're looking at a significant investment that many families simply can't afford.

That's exactly why UHL started, said Molly Cashman, the organization's communications director. Originally focused on hockey, UHL was founded on the belief that connecting military kids with the gear and funds to be active and participate in sports is a worthwhile cause.

The way the organization gets requested gear to qualifying families is pretty simple. Users fill out a request form; organization staff process it and place an order queue according to a priority set by UHL; the order is processed and the gear is shipped, free of charge.

That priority is set with families of the fallen first in line; followed by Purple Heart recipients; deployed families; currently serving troops by order of paygrade, lowest-ranking first; and then, finally, honorably discharged combat veterans, the website says. Veterans and families can request gear or funds for immediate family members, such as children and step-children, but not grandchildren, Cashman said.

Orders, which will be shipped to all 50 states and APO addresses, are filled in about eight weeks, she said. If they don't have requested gear on hand, they'll let the applicant know.

UHL also provides cash grants, up to $500, for families who need help paying for sports fees like ice time. They also give away sporting event tickets, camp slots and "experiences," like meet-and-greets with sports stars or trips to the Super Bowl.

Grants are given out in two waves in the fall and spring, Cashman said, and military families and veterans can apply to be on a mailing list that will notify them when tickets or other opportunities in their specific region become available. The grant application and mailing list sign-up are on UHL's website. In 2018, the organization gave away $40,000 in grants and 4,800 tickets, they said.

The organization recently received an uptick in applications thanks to inclusion in a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) email newsletter. UHL typically received. About 1,550 equipment requests each year. When the email was sent out, it received double that in a single day. But, at the same time, more companies have stepped up to donate gear or cash. So, while UHL is still trying to keep up with processing orders, staff have the gear on hand to keep up with demand, Cashman said.

Veterans and troops with specific questions can contact the organization at info@unitedheroesleague.org.

 

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