An end to home­town mi­nor hockey?

On­tario Mi­nor Hockey As­so­ci­a­tion study­ing ben­e­fits of eras­ing bound­aries

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - LATHAM HUNTER Latham Hunter is writer and pro­fes­sor of cul­tural stud­ies and com­mu­ni­ca­tions; her work has been pub­lished in jour­nals, an­tholo­gies and print news for over 20 years. She blogs at The Kids’ Book Cu­ra­tor.

The City and the On­tario Mi­nor Hockey As­so­ci­a­tion are study­ing the pos­si­ble ben­e­fits of eras­ing the bound­aries that cur­rently keep Stoney Creek play­ers in Stoney Creek, Dundas play­ers in Dundas, and so on. The sug­ges­tion seems to be that, in a time of per­sis­tently de­clin­ing en­rol­ment in mi­nor hockey, greater player “move­ment” be­tween as­so­ci­a­tions might keep more kids in the sport, so a sur­vey has been cre­ated to ask par­ents for their in­put on the mat­ter.

I can see some ben­e­fit in this idea. As a hockey par­ent, I’m for­tu­nate to be con­nected to a team where my child is thriv­ing, but I’m see­ing more and more kids at the rep level in par­tic­u­lar who don’t have enough choice: they don’t make the cut for one team, but they’re bet­ter than the next team down, and who knows if there will even be enough play­ers to ros­ter that team? Per­haps, if all the Hamil­ton kids could try out for any Hamil­ton as­so­ci­a­tion, there would be a bet­ter chance of them find­ing a good fit for their skill level. But it would, make no mis­take, be a loss to di­min­ish home­town hockey.

I’ve met more peo­ple in my town through my kids’ hockey teams than in any other way. We run into each other at the gro­cery store, the li­brary … we stitch a pat­tern of recog­ni­tion and con­nec­tion across our com­mu­nity. When hockey par­ents work to­gether to co-or­di­nate child care on PA days, or give each other’s kids rides to the rink, their chil­dren are learn­ing the ben­e­fits that come from help­ing and re­ly­ing on peo­ple in their com­mu­nity. A child who grows up with a solid sense of place and be­long­ing has, re­search shows, more con­fi­dence and more re­silience.

More­over, the City of Hamil­ton is a big place: I shud­der to think of the num­ber of par­ents who might find them­selves driv­ing from, say, Dundas to Stoney Creek sev­eral times weekly. The en­vi­ron­men­tal and lo­gis­ti­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions of spend­ing yet more time in the car are pretty dire, espe­cially for a fami- ly with more than one child in af­ter­school ac­tiv­i­ties. One of the most beau­ti­ful things about my home­town is that I can drop one child off for bal­let and then sim­ply drive across the road to drop the other one off for hockey. Dou­ble­booked, you say? NEVER! I can be in two places at once! VIC­TORY IS MINE!

In­stead of giv­ing up on home­town hockey, per­haps we should be hon­est about why there are fewer kids play­ing the sport.

Rep par­ents are the ca­naries in the coal mine of mi­nor hockey — they’re the ones who usu­ally com­mit the most time and money to the sport. Not all rep par­ents are highly priv­i­leged — for some, the cost is a sac­ri­fice they’re will­ing to make be­cause they be­lieve in the re­wards. If rep par­ents are walk­ing away, you know some­thing’s re­ally wrong. And that’s ex­actly what’s hap­pen­ing. While en­rol­ment in OMHA as­so­ci­a­tions is de­clin­ing, busi­ness at for-profit “rogue” leagues con­tin­ues to in­crease. I know first­hand that many fam­i­lies are leav­ing OMHA as­so­ci­a­tions not be­cause they can’t pay the fees or be­cause their child doesn’t want to play hockey any more or be­cause they’re wor­ried about head in­juries. They leave be­cause their kids aren’t get­ting the coach­ing they need or want, and that’s down to the OMHA’s egre­gious lack of over­sight and lack of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the prod­uct it’s selling.

Mi­nor hockey as­so­ci­a­tions around the prov­ince are still tainted with rep coaches who ver­bally abuse their play­ers (an­grily sham­ing kids as young as six, be­lieve it or not) and throw tantrums on the bench. Even more preva­lent are the coaches who can’t ac­tu­ally coach, and there­fore f ail to teach kids that when you work hard at some­thing, you im­prove. Con­flicts of in­ter­est and favouritism on as­so­ci­a­tion boards are com­mon­place, so bad coaches of­ten stay on the bench. Even if an as­so­ci­a­tion is guilty of some­thing as se­ri­ous as a hu­man rights vi­o­la­tion, the OMHA won’t get in­volved. Over the past eight years, I’ve only seen ev­i­dence of the OMHA’s will to im­prove coach­ing once, when it in­sisted that all as­so­ci­a­tions fol­low the guide­lines for its in­tro­duc­tory pro­gram, for kids in kinder­garten and Grade 1. The suc­cess of this ini­tia­tive only in­creases my frus­tra­tion: why doesn’t the OMHA show this kind of lead­er­ship and over­sight more of­ten?

A par­ent re­cently told me that she asked her son’s coach what his plans were to help her son im­prove in some of the ba­sic skills he seemed to be strug­gling with (along with most of the team). The coach re­sponded that he was “a big be­liever in The Wave.” This fam­ily had spent thou­sands to join a team whose coach was sug­gest­ing that they spend more money and go else­where for skill de­vel­op­ment. No won­der peo­ple are leav­ing. But solv­ing such sys­temic prob­lems would re­quire a lot more work and ex­pense than sim­ply open­ing up the gates and send­ing kids out of their home­towns to try and find their team.

The Hamil­ton Hockey Sur­vey will be on­line at www.sur­vey­mon­key.com/r/ hamil­ton­hock­ey­survey un­til March 1.

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

A ban­tam mi­nor hockey game in Hamil­ton: Is eras­ing tra­di­tional bor­ders re­ally ad­dress­ing the core prob­lem af­fect­ing mi­nor hockey en­rol­ment?

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