Thinking outside a box: Paraprofessional gets cane made from hockey stick

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Houghton High School shop teacher Greg Staricha, student Brad Gauthier, paraprofessional Mike Datto, shop/AutoCAD teacher Jerry Svoke and student Brendan Erickson are seen at Houghton High School Monday. Students and teachers collaborated to make a cane from a hockey stick for Datto, who was born with cerebral palsy.

HOUGHTON — With every step Mike Datto takes, he will be reminded how students appreciate the difference he ha made.

Houghton High School students and shop teachers came together to build a stronger cane for Datto, a paraprofessional in the ninth-10th grade resource room.

Datto, who was born with cerebral palsy, said he goes through about three canes a year.

Heavy-duty ones hurt his wrist. He has favored the Hurricane, which is lighter. But since it often has to carry his full weight, they do tend to break.

“They’ve happened anywhere from at a football game at Michigan Tech to teaching geometry here,” he said. “They’ve snapped in grocery stores. I never know when it’s going to snap. It just snaps.”

One of those came in during a geometry lesson with Brad Gauthier, now a senior at Houghton High School. The students offered to help him up, but Datto did not want it, Gauthier said.

Talking about it with other students in study hall, Gauthier said, they realized how hard it must be for Datto to get around every day.

“He does it every day for the kids, and he’s helped me so much throughout school, to get past classes and when I struggled a lot, so I thought I’d give back to him and make his life just a bit easier,” he said.

Gauthier’s research led him to a man in California who makes canes from hockey sticks. He and Brendan Erickson, a hockey teammate and Houghton High School senior, reached out to other faculty to do the same for Datto.

“The world’s a dark place, and you have to do something nice,” Erickson said. “…He loves hockey, he knows us, he likes us. We had to do something really nice for him. and we’re graduating, so it’s like a farewell gift for him.”

Resource room teacher Kathleen Richards talked with Michigan Technological University athletic director Suzanne Sanregret for the hockey stick. Auto CAD/shop teacher Jerry Svoke made the handle. Shop teacher Greg Staricha fabricated a metal piece to link the stick to the foot of the cane.

Through a fundraising effort from special education teacher Greg Campbell, they raised money to buy supplies for the handle and replacement rubber soles for the feet.

The stick is hollow, keeping it light. However, that does not mean it sacrifices strength.

A hockey stick can break with enough twisting force applied to it; with Datto pushing down, that’s not likely. In its original form the stick had an 80 flex rating, meaning it required 80 pounds of force to flex one inch.

Because it was cut by about three feet to become a cane, pushing the rating closer to 200, Gauthier said.

There is another bonus. The Husky player whose stick was used for the cane is Raymond Brice, also a Houghton High alum.

But the best part is how people came together, Datto said.

“That’s what gives you goosebumps, makes you feel all good, is that you hope you help these kids along the way, and they found a way to give back,” he said. “I’ll remember them forever because of this cane. Hopefully I’ll be using it forever.”