Ogden Mustangs use platform to spread autism awareness
OGDEN — Sean Wilmert, owner of the Ogden Mustangs hockey team, and Olie Kolzig, a former National Hockey League player who now assists with player development for Washington Capitals NHL team, joined forces for the second annual Autism Awareness Weekend.
Over the weekend, the Mustang hockey team auctioned off jerseys, held alternative auctions and, generally, devoted time to raising awareness in the community and nationally to provide families with autism needs the resources they may need to help.
Wilmert has owned the Mustangs since June 2020. The junior hockey team provides developmental opportunities for players age 17-21 who are in the early stages of chasing their dreams of playing hockey at the NCAA Division I or professional level.
Directly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilmert and his wife, Kimberly, purchased the team. On average, he said, there are about five to seven sellouts per season and on any given game night they sell roughly 1,000 seats.
For the third and final night of the Mustangs’ Autism Awareness Weekend, they sold 1,200 seats, which is an increase from the inaugural weekend event last year, when they sold 800 seats.
“We put this together to bring awareness to autism, to raise money and to continue that awareness for the community and worldwide,” Sean Wilmert said.
Kolzig has a son, Carson, who was diagnosed with autism at 15 months old, and said he knows first-hand how much of a challenge it can be to even know where to begin to navigate resources, funds and integrate the disorder into a family’s daily routine.
Kolzig has been playing hockey since the age of 3 and played in the NHL for 14 years. He is still involved with hockey and said he “would not trade hockey for anything.”
In 2005, Kolzig created the Carson Kolzig Foundation to raise awareness about autism.
“I always say this. … If you get a cancer diagnosis, it is kind of cut and dry as far as what options are and what to do,” Kolzig said. “But if you get a diagnosis of autism, although it is not life-threatening, it does have a big effect on not only the individual but the family dynamic as well, and every different child requires a different intervention. And so we were fortunate that we had some resources to go to and talk to. But had we not those resources, it would have been monumental.”
Kolzig said he established the Carson Kolzig Foundation to help families dealing with autism on any level to find resources in order to make managing their family’s specific needs as easy as possible.
“I have known Sean and Kimberly for well over 20 years,” he said. “When Sean bought the team a couple years ago, part of his mission was to have various charity nights, and because of his interaction with me and my son … autism has become very near and dear to his heart. We hope this weekend is just a little bit better than last year, but more importantly we raise awareness for autism in the area.”
The Wilmerts pursued the purchase of the Mustangs from close friends to keep the team’s ownership local.
Kimberly Wilmert, alongside her husband, expressed her enthusiasm about the fanbase, saying, “You will hear the noise during the games.” The Wilmerts’ support for keeping the Mustangs locally owned and operated is at the core of their motivation for their making the choice on becoming owners.
“What we were discovering with our son and hockey,” Kimberly Wilmert said, “is that once you get to a certain age and skill level, you have to leave the state to play at a high level. So if the Ogden Mustangs weren’t here, that would be one less opportunity for kids to try to stay either in Utah or come from the surrounding states and not have to go too far from home to be able to play at a higher level.”
As the Autism Awareness Weekend came to a close, it was a 10-1 Mustangs victory over the Rocks Springs Prospectors.
Right wing Jacob Williams, who came from Michigan to play for the Mustangs, described some of his experience with the fan base and support he’s received as being a player for the organization.
“Olie started the foundation for his son, Carson, and Olie came and talked to us about it. It is for a great cause, raise some money,” he said. “When Olie came in and he talked about it, one thing that touched home for me was that … he would have loved for his son to be able to play in the league. … Things like that, just be grateful for what they have because other people just do not have it as easy — although, his son Carson has done many great things with his life.
“It is a great cause to get behind. Even if you do not have autism in your family, supporting events like this is a way to support your neighbors, friends or someone in the community you may not know.”
Although the Autism Awareness Weekend has come to a close, there are still three home games left in the Mustangs’ 2022-23 season.