When he was a young boy, Kaleigh Schrock's father allowed him to watch the Stephen King movie "It," which gave the younger Schrock a life-long phobia about clowns.
"I remember having nightmares that I would open my closet door and Pennywise would grab me and pull me in," Schrock said.
Though he earned almost 1,000 penalty minutes during six years with the Komets, about the only thing that scares him as much as clowns is dancing, particularly in public. So when the director of athlete development at the Sport One/Parkview Icehouse received a phone call recently asking him to take part in a dancing competition, he almost immediately rejected the idea. Even listening to the message gave him the willies!
But then he had another thought.
"How selfish would that be?" Schrock said. "I get to work with kids who are healthy and athletic and they leave the ice every day smiling. I thought back to when we did the teddy bear toss distribution at the children's hospital, and I thought why haven’t we been doing this every year for the kids? That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, going to see those kids, and I thought I can look like a fool and dance as long as I can raise some money for these kids."
Schrock, 32, is taking part in "Reason to Dance, Reason to Hope," a March 10 fundraiser for Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis patterned after the "Dancing with the Stars" television show. Schrock is working his way through 15 lessons from Fort Wayne Ballroom Company with co-owner Kelly Bartlett-Spalding as his partner and teacher, practicing salsa and quick-step moves.
"We joke all the time that he used to be at the top of his game, and coming into the studio he was so nervous he wasn’t going to be able to dance or perform well," Bartlett-Spalding said. "What he forgets is that as an athlete he understands balance and weight change and direction. He’s better than he gives himself credit for."
See, Schrock says that's an example of reverse psychology. A perfectionist, he's obsessive about his lessons because he's sure Bartlett-Spalding is leading him on and she has the bruised feet to prove it. He'd much rather put his skates on again for the first time in two years and go toe-to-toe against a 6-foot-6, 250-pound defenseman who possesses a crushing right hand. Somehow, that would not be as scary.
"If I'm going to do it and I'm going to be serious about it, I want to do it the right way," Schrock said. "I may not look great out there, but I'm going to do what I can and be the best I can at this. I'm getting more confident."
Asked what muscles are used in dancing though not in hockey, Schrock immediately answers, "Your brain."
Oh, boy, Bartlett-Spalding must be a really good teacher. Schrock said the dance lessons have also helped him become a better coach.
"She has done a great job of making me comfortable in that environment," he said. "I dance in front of other people there, and I'm not nervous any more, but my first day, she's doing basic steps and I'm screwing them up and immediately thought, `I need to have more patience with my kids on the ice.' This whole experience has been awesome because now I understand I have to give these kids a bit longer leash before I get frustrated. Not everybody learns the same way."
Then the tension increased when Schrock called Komets Vice President Scott Sproat asking for a sponsorship. After Sproat counter-offered, now Schrock and Bartlett-Spalding are going to dance during an intermission of the Komets' March 5 game.
"I won't like that," he said. "It's going to be hard. Even when I walk into that building now I don't like it because I feel like I want to be playing. I'll be focused on not screwing up the dance, and hopefully I won't even think about it. If I do mess up in front of the fans, they know why I'm doing it and it's for kids."
There will be plenty of opportunity for Komets fans to donate to Schrock's cause that night or they can go to http://reasontodance.org/celebrities/kaleigh-schrock. (WANE's Terra Brantley is also participating.) Schrock's overall goal is to raise $20,000, and to help he's going to auction two special jerseys at the game.
"The thing about Kaleigh is he just really has his heart in the right place," Bartlett-Spalding said. "I love working with him. Although he's so self-motivated on being a good dancer and doing a good job, it's very evident to me that the reason is he doesn't want to let me or Riley down. We talk as much about fundraising during our practices as we do dancing. It warms my heart because he just gets it."
Watching Schrock dance at a Komets game could only be better if Icy came out to join him wearing a clown outfit.
For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring, at his blog tailingthekomets.com and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.