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the Multi-Park District Approach

by Thomas K. Hunter Competitive Athletic Supervisor, Elk Grove Park District

Youth hockey is, in many cases, controlled by athletic organizations whose primary concern is winning. They place their emphasis on finding the best hockey players available and developing them into State champions.

Often times, this leaves the average hockey player or beginner out in the cold. Competition has replaced development and enjoyment in youth hockey. Many park districts and recreation agencies realize this problem but have been unable to offer reasonable alternatives, for a variety of reasons.

One reason has been lack of an indoor facility within the park district or community. Consequently, these communities have had to develop outdoor ice ponds or rinks and at best the ice making conditions have been irregular and often non-existent during the winter months.

Another alternative has been to refer boys to commercially operated ice rinks for "in-house", or recreational, competition. This not only increases the cost to the participants, since commercial per hour rates are generally $5.00 to $10.00 more than public operated facilities, but also the motivation for commercial rinks has inherent operational and philosophical differences due to the profit/loss statement.

Hockey action in the novice league
One reason park districts have not been able to offer extensive recreational hockey programs is competition for boys among other athletic pressure groups in the communities. Due to the overlap of playing seasons (i.e. baseball into football, football into hockey, hockey into basketball, basketball into soccer, and soccer into baseball), we are finding that youth (under 14) are being constantly urged by parents and coaches to participate in all these sports. Consequently, the costs to parents to provide their boys and girls with year round sports participation is becoming extremely high. Once the young athlete has reached junior high school age his athletic talents are more developed and specialized. This in turn is recognized by the high school coach who is recruiting for the next "winning season." The point is, at this age (14 and older) the young athlete is no longer urged to participate in all sports but to specialize his skills to be competitive. This requires year round conditioning, practice, and/or extraordinary amount of desire and dedication.

This type of dedication is not an inherent quality in all athletes. These individuals, therefore, may wish to compete but not at the levels of those with more refined skills and talent. Since there are a majority of average athletes, the responsibility and priority of recreation agencies lies within this group.

A group of park districts in the Northwest Suburban area of Metropolitan Chicago saw the need to offer a low cost, high-participation, well supervised, recreational hockey program. This "House League" program, as it is called, utilizes one park district operated rink (i.e. Rolling Meadows Park District).

The park districts participating in the Northwest Suburban Park District Hockey are Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg, Elk Grove, Hanover Park, Mount Prospect, and Buffalo Grove. Since each of these districts could not offer a "House League" program alone, the combination of all park districts provided the boys with a chance to play less competitive hockey.

One representative from each park district comprises a Policy Board which determines philosophy,

Illinois Parks and Recreation 12 July/August, 1976

Low cost, maximum participation combined with instruction is the key to a successful program.

playing rules for participants, rules on disciplinary matters, and generally oversees the entire program. The Hockey Director employed at Rolling Meadows rink administers the program as dictated by the Policy Board.

One of the more important rules insures every player of receiving approximately the same amount of ice time by changing lines at 3 minute intervals when it does not interfere with play.

One important item that gave some of the park districts a chance to register all boys, regardless of amount, was the rule where "teams will be made up with a balance of talent being essential. Only the Hockey Director may change players to balance teams with the approval of the Board representatives of the teams involved". This insures each park district that only has 5-6 players per division to be placed on a team, that those boys are not turned away due to low enrollment.

Conduct is a very important item in recreational hockey and the rules are very strict and specific in this area. It teaches not only self-discipline but also sportsmanship. League suspension is the ultimate consequence for an individual who exhibits unsportsmanlike conduct.

"Traveling Teams" or All-Star teams will not be able to participate as a team intact and boys playing in Traveling Leagues will be discouraged in participating in this league.

Each player is given a list of equipment that is required, since safety is a primary concern. If a boy is not properly attired, he will not be allowed on the ice.

In the Mite (6-8 yrs.) and Squirt (9-10 yrs.) level, all boys must use a stick with straight blade, which enhances the learning situation. Also, aggressive checking techniques are discouraged with more emphasis on skating skills, positioning, and stick handling.

The House League was broken into two divisions a Novice program and a League program. The Novice program provides a basic learning experience for those boys (6-10) who have never played and have not the skating skills to play in a league situation. The rink is divided in half by a plywood barrier on the red line with instructors on each half showing the boys the proper hockey skills. Toward the end of the season 1/2 ice games are played with the instructors officiating and correcting techniques during play. This situation gives more boys a chance to learn the game, gives the rink maximum utilization, and lowers cost to the participant.

The League program includes boys that have the necessary skills to participate in controlled competition. No records or statistics are kept and a running clock is used. In each program, every boy is given a total of 24 hours of ice time, (once per week starting in Mid-October thru Mid-March).

Fees in many Traveling Leagues are approaching $200 per boy and that includes much fund-raising to help support the organization. The fee for the Northwest Suburban Park District League was set at $55 per boy, far below the exhorbitant rates many traveling organizations in the Chicagoland area charge. If each park district can subsidize the program to some extent the cost naturally decreases. Included in this fee is insurance, jersey, referees, goalie equipment, pucks, instructors (for Novice program), ice time costs, and a participation patch for each individual that had signed up. Trying to give more for the recreational dollar was the goal of the league from its inception.

The continued success of such a program lies within each park district's ability to offer a better alternative to highly competitive, pressure-packed youth athletic programs, be it hockey, football, baseball, etc. By keeping a recreational philosophy in a competitive youth sport, parental attitudes, and coaching attitudes will hopefully, be geared more towards fun rather than win, win, win!

This philosophy is expressed in the House Hockey Governing Rules for Players, and sums up the entire multi-park district approach. It states:

"The purpose of this league is to provide an enjoyable hockey experience on a recreational level for all boys to learn and practice the basic skills for skating, stick handling, shooting, passing and receiving. Team strategy and positioning will come from game participation. Games should be considered an educational and fun experience. Winning should not be considered the price concern."

Illinois Parks and Recreation 13 July/August, 1976

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