Anthony Herrington thought it would be a great idea to teach hockey during regular school hours.
After completing his Masters of Education thesis at the University of Victoria, Herrington worked hard to bring his hockey coaching skills to his job as a physical education teacher at Sherwood Secondary School in Hamilton, Ont.
Based on his experience working with a similar school-based hockey program in Victoria while attending university, Herrington started teaching hockey skills to Grade 9 students in the fall of 1999.
Since that time, the program has grown to the point where 78 students in Grades 9 to 11 signed up to take the class this year and it has also become an official Hockey Canada Skills Academy.
“Personally, it has been a great experience to be involved in a ground-breaking program for hockey players regardless of their ability,” Herrington said. “Ice hockey is a sport that has not traditionally been taught in the P.E. curriculum and it has given me a chance to use my expertise during the school day.”
According to Paul Carson, Hockey Canada’s Director of Development, the Hockey Canada Skills Academy program is “one of the most dynamic new initiatives” introduced by Hockey Canada.
The 10th recommendation of the 1999 Molson Open Ice Summit led to the development of the HCSA program, explained Carson. The recommendation is an initiative to “promote cooperative efforts between school boards, local hockey associations and sponsors, to better utilize ice times and school facilities and move towards the development of school sports.”
By becoming a licensed Hockey Canada Skills Academy, Herrington said his program was enhanced through the use of drills, videos, and off-ice exercises, supplied by Hockey Canada. “And, of course, the Team Canada jerseys,” Herrington added.
In its second year as an official HCSA, the Hamilton – based program has drawn rave reviews from school administrators, teachers, students and parents.
“It’s a very, very positive program,” said Sherwood vice principal Doug Cihocki. “It’s a big addition to our school."
Ron Teufel, Sherwood’s PE department head and an on-ice instructor of the Grade 9 class, commended the local school board for being innovative and throwing their support behind the program.
“I thought it was a long shot, but I also thought it was a great idea,” said Teufel, recalling his impressions of the idea when he first heard about it. “It was something very new to the area – something new to Ontario.”
Rob Kitamura, an experienced NCCP Advanced II Level coach and the Scouting Coordinator for the OHL Barrie Colts, was hired as an on-ice coordinator for the program.
“He’s a great guy and an excellent hockey person,” said Herrington, who is also an Advanced II Level coach. “We’re really fortunate to have him. He’s really enhanced our program.”
“Personally I think it’s an excellent idea,” Kitamura said. “They should have them in most middle schools and secondary schools. It’s a perfect supplement to a regular hockey program.”
Currently in Grade 12 at Sherwood Secondary, Jordan Ward, 17, went through the program from Grade 9 to 12.
“It was awesome,” Ward said. “I liked it a lot. I just liked how we got to go to the rink to play during gym class.” Ward appreciated the extra hockey skills he learned during the daytime sessions.
“You could tell it made students better hockey players over the year,” he said, noting the instructors are first rate. “They were really good with us. They made sure we had a good time.”
Grade 10 student Brandon Key has enjoyed the lessons he has learned so far while taking the class.
“No matter how good you are, there’s always ways to improve yourself and get better,” said the 15-year-old, who enjoyed getting extra ice time and enhancing his knowledge of the game. “It’s a great way to meet new people and learn lots of things about hockey.”
Key can look forward to taking the program again next year, but he’s lobbying the instructors to offer the class in his senior year as well.
“We’re trying to get the teachers to put it in Grade 12 too,” Key said. While Ward is a AAA level player with the Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs and Key competes at the Minor Midget A level with the Chedoke Express, Herrington said the skills academy isn’t an elite program.
“It is co-ed and open to any student wishing to improve their skills,” Herrington said, noting the 70 per cent of the students who sign up are recreational house league players.
Regardless of their ability and level, students in the class get the opportunity to improve their skills, Kitamura said.
“It presents the community coach the opportunity to use his or her expertise to improve the skill level of each player,” he said. “It gives us the time to work on all the important things we as coaches tend to overlook in a competitive program or club situation.”
Making the program available to all levels of players was one of the school board’s main goals when it backed the initiative.
“There was concern from other schools that it would be an elite program,” Cihocki said. “It’s certainly not that. We’re not out raiding other schools for hockey talent.”
The on-ice sessions are based around skill development and not around team concepts.
“They do a lot of on-ice drills that sometimes don’t even involve sticks and pucks,” Cihocki said.
“We’re not game orientated,” Teufel added. “We’re all about skill development and having fun.”
For the instructors, seeing students have fun while learning skills is what the program is all about.
“The experience has been priceless,” Kitamura commented. “As the semester progresses you can see the players gain confidence and try the new skills they have learned.”
Teufel and Herrington agreed that seeing the positive reaction of the students is rewarding.
“Seeing the kids enjoy it, that’s probably one of the biggest rewards,” Teufel said.
“It’s rewarding for me because it does put fun into hockey,” Herrington said. “It’s great to see smiles on their faces. That they are not scared to try new things is really rewarding as a teacher.”
Herrington explained that the students have to give up some of their free time to take the class. “We have to take a bus to the arena as the closest arena is about a 10 minute drive, so we use the lunch hour to get extra time for the class,” he said, noting that students usually eat their lunches on the way to the arena.
Once changed and on the ice, students receive almost an hour of instruction before heading back to school for their remaining classes.
During the introductory lesson each semester, Herrington encourages the students to enjoy their time on the ice and use it to enhance their skills.
“I bring them in and I say, ‘Look around everyone, there is no better place to be than in an arena during the school day. Nobody else is here. It is just you and the ice – let’s use it to have fun and to improve your skills’."
The sessions always include some sort of fun game, often incorporating the use of a tennis ball or ringette ring instead of a puck. Other times, students play a game of 3-on-3 with revised rules near the end of the class. “We’re doing some really cool things here,” Herrington said.
The Sherwood program has even attracted the interest of other schools. In March, a group of teachers, parents and students from Peterborough visited Hamilton to take in one of the Sherwood skills academy sessions.
“They had a couple students who actually participated in the on-ice sessions,” Teufel said.
“They were really impressed,” Herrington beamed.