The game of hockey is a Canadian pastime, but not every child can afford to play the sport.
So, parks, recreation and culture partnered with Fairview Community School to allow students in its Boys to Men mentorship program to learn to play the game.
The program targets at-risk youth, ages seven to 12, dealing with varying issues including emotional and social challenges, living in low-income households or single-parent households. The hockey component of the program has two coaches and 10 program mentors.
Gary Paterson, city recreation coordinator for arenas, said the partnership allows a demographic that wouldn’t normally access parks and recreation programs because of barriers to participate.
“There is a connection between playing hockey and being Canadian,” he said. “What’s the message when they are cut off from a Canadian experience?”
The hockey program teaches participants the fundamental skills of skating, stick handling and shooting the puck. The majority of students in the program had never worn skates, and had to learn the game the hard way.
Falling down on the ice was a familiar scene in the first lessons, but what made the experience more comfortable was even some of the youth’s mentors were learning to skate and would fall down on the ice occasionally.
Paterson remained off the ice, allowing the mentors and coaches to lead the hockey lessons. However, whenever there were tears or tantrums, the player would be taken off the ice and Paterson, acting as a mentor, would talk with them about resolving issues in more positive ways.
He said one of the best experiences of participating in the program was giving hockey gear to the kids. People often drop off used skates, sticks and jerseys at the arena for staff to give to those who need equipment.
At first the mentors and students believed the equipment was just to be used for the duration of the program, but Paterson told them it was theirs to keep.
Gregg Halfyard, principal of Fairview school, said giving kids hockey equipment has given them more access.
“You can just imagine how happy they were,” he said.
The Boys to Men program has been running for three years, but it’s the first time the school partnered with parks and recreation to have a hockey program.
The youth attended their final hockey lesson last week, but the principal hopes to partner with parks and recreation again next winter to offer the program.
Halfyard said the partnership shows the community can support vulnerable youth, and such programs are changing lives.