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12/09/2012 10:29 AM -

Thanks in part to the opportunities provided by the Griffins Youth Foundation, Shane Mooney feels ready to serve his country as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Story and photo by Mark Newman

Playing hockey in the Griffins Youth Foundation program may not seem like an obvious path to the Marines, but for Shane Mooney, it was one opportunity for which he will be forever grateful.

Shane was just four years old when he attended the Griffins’ inaugural game in October 1996. Six years later, he received hockey skates for Christmas and enrolled in the Learn to Skate program at Griff’s IceHouse.

Being season ticket holders, the Mooneys were big Griffins fans. His parents, Pat and Kathy, both had jobs, but they felt the cost of hockey put the sport out of reach for their son to play.

“We went to all of the Griffins games, and Shane loved sitting in the seats by the bench,” she said. “He always had his face pressed up against the glass.”

In early 2004, they attended the Griffins Booster Club silent auction and won a certificate for Shane to help Griffins equipment manager Brad Thompson for one game.

Shane worked the Griffins’ home game on March 13, 2004, an experience that helped convince Thompson to offer Shane a position as a locker room attendant for the following season.

“He had a paper route, so he knew what it was like to work hard and get paid,” Kathy said. “Now he was able to learn what it was like to work hard and not get paid.”

Shane loved it. “Being able to see firsthand the leadership and teamwork made a big impression,” he said. “I got to see the work ethic of different guys and how they went about their jobs. I saw that players can lead without having a letter on their jerseys.”

His favorite player was Matt Ellis, who was highly regarded for his hard work and who became the youngest captain in Griffins history. “His work ethic and dedication to what he did was tremendous,” Shane said.

Shane broke his tibia and fibia on Labor Day 2005 while riding his bike. He had a steel plate put into his leg on his 13th birthday. When he returned to school, it was in a wheelchair. Within a few months, he was able to use his crutches.

His parents were surprised but not shocked when, a year later, Shane began expressing a desire to play hockey.

“Shane wanted to play hockey, but we couldn’t afford it,” his mom recalled. “(Griffins broadcaster) Bob Kaser had us talk to (then-foundation president) Lou Rabaut about the Griffins Youth Foundation.”

Shane ended up playing two years in the program, his team winning the 79ers trophy during his second year. Later, as a high school senior, Shane played for the Northview-Comstock Park hockey team.

“The Griffins Youth Foundation provides kids like Shane with not only the chance to play hockey, but also to learn about sportsmanship and teamwork,” Kathy Mooney said.

Shane continued volunteering as a locker room attendant, eventually moving to the visitors’ side. He loved working behind the scenes, helping teams from the moment they arrived until they left Van Andel Arena.

But he wanted to do more.

In April 2012, after considerable research, Shane decided to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. He will report to Camp Pendleton in San Diego in January 2013.

“It felt like something I had to do,” he said. “I’m going to serve my country and serve those who served for me. As much as I love what I do and being around the team, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”

His mom sees the Marines as a logical progession. “Shane enjoys being a part of a team,” she said. “Now he has joined one of the best.”

Thompson said the Marines, in return, are getting one of the best. “Shane’s a class act,” Thompson said. “He’s a good kid you can respect and trust. I had to squeeze him to get him to talk the first couple of years, so it’s cool to see him develop into a confident, outgoing kid who cares about everybody.”

Honor, loyalty and commitment are just a few Marine ideals. Thompson said Shane will have no problem fitting in.

"He’s always been a G.I. Joe type,” Thompson said. “He’s smart and knows how to use his resources. He does what needs to be done without being told everything, and he finds a way to get stuff done.”

Needless to say, his parents are proud of their only son’s decision. Even so, Kathy Mooney said it will be hard to see him go. “I know it will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

The Mooneys will be forever grateful for the influence of the Griffins in helping to mold their son.

“In a sense, Shane looks to Brad as the brother that he never had,” she said. “We love the Griffins Youth Foundation and we’re so happy to see that the program has grown as it has. It continues to give opportunities that many kids would never have received.”

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