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BRIAN JONES: Another ugly side to hockey parents

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The minor hockey crowd wants about $1 million from my town — Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s — and another few million dollars from several other towns.

They want to build a second ice pad at the Jack Byrne Arena in Torbay, because the demand for ice time outstrips its availability. The Northeast Minor Hockey Association (NEMHA) had about 700 players when Younger Boy finished some years ago, and it has undoubtedly added a hundred or two since then. Apparently, some beer league slots at the Jack Byrne Arena have been bumped to make way for the kids.

Let me be clear at the outset that I love hockey. Every kid should play it. When our boys started in novice, I told them, “My three favourite sports are hockey, hockey and hockey.”

Within the first few years, I also had to explain to them, “Unfortunately, minor hockey causes stupidity.”

I include myself in that. I coached for about 10 years. When I was done, it was like walking — skating — out of a haze into clear, fresh air.

So, what I say here isn’t intended as a personal slight against anyone. It’s just financial facts.

Money is a hidden ugly side of minor hockey.

Hockey parents are asking taxpayers of six towns to contribute public money toward a facility that will benefit only a minority of the area’s children, i.e., those who play minor hockey.

People don’t talk about it much, because the main minor hockey issue is parents yelling at kids and coaches.

A meeting was held in about 2005, a few years before the Jack Byrne Arena was built. Municipal representatives at a head table explained the plan and schedule. Most of the several dozen minor hockey coaches and parents in attendance told them that it sounded like a terrific facility, but the main need was two ice surfaces. Can’t be done, the municipal reps replied, because if the plan is changed the provincial and/or federal government might not approve its share of funding.

The Jack Byrne Arena, with its NHL-size ice surface and 1,000 seats, is indeed a fine facility, but it isn’t what the kids need — and never was. They need ice time, which was apparent before the first shovel hit the rocks.

A few years later, I sent a proposal to the executive of the NEMHA. The need for a second ice pad would only grow greater in the coming years, I suggested, so the association and its hockey parents should start planning for it and contributing money for it.

Even though most current players wouldn’t benefit from it, future players would, and when the NEMHA goes to the government seeking funds to add an ice pad, it could say it already has a few hundred thousand dollars collected from parents over the years.

I proposed that the association apply an annual $25 to $50 fee to each member family, and put the money in a fund specifically for a second ice pad. The idea was ignored.

Here we are, about a decade later.

Does the NEMHA have a fund of $500,000 to contribute, to show that parents are — and were — willing to help pay for what their children will benefit from? Not that I’ve heard.

Granted, half a million dollars is only one-18th of the estimated $9 million needed to add a second ice pad to the Jack Byrne Arena. But the amount of the fund wouldn’t be as important as the boost it would have given to the hockey association when the issue became political, which it now is.

Hockey parents — via the NEMHA — are asking taxpayers of six towns to contribute public money toward a facility that will benefit only a minority of the area’s children, i.e., those who play minor hockey.

This is what I hope Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s council members will reply: “We will consider the request, as soon as we receive assurances that hockey parents will also contribute.”

A $50-per-family annual stipend? Hockey parents will probably protest. And then they’ll go buy junior a $100 practice jersey and a $200 hockey stick.

Brian Jones loves football and editing Telegram reporters’ stories. He can be reached at brian.jones@thetelegram.com.


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