Without a Hockey Canada Skills Academy, Todd Basso found himself struggling to find anything exciting about heading to high school.
Like most teens, waking up in the morning for a day of school wasn't on the top of his list of favourite things to do. However, playing hockey is, so given the chance to incorporate hockey into his school day at Summerland Secondary School through the Hockey Canada Skills Academy program was a no-brainer.
“I'm learning a lot about how to be a better hockey player and improve my skills, but I also have become more focused to go to school,” admitted 16-year-old Basso, who plays for a Minor Midget team in Summerland. “Last year without it I skipped school some days. It has made school a lot more fun and I look forward to being in class every day.”
Jacob Lusted, a 13-year-old who attends Summerland Secondary, said he heard about the program through some of his teammates on his Bantam team, the Summerland Jets.
“It's awesome. I look forward to it every day I get up for school. I think my parents were even more excited about it than me because of the whole big move into high school thing,” said Lusted, who has set a goal to one day play Junior A for the Penticton Vees.
Summerland Secondary School, located in the small community just 15 kilometres north of Penticton, is one of 27 academies in British Columbia. In order to get the most out of arenas during weekday hours – when most minor hockey players are in school – Hockey Canada believes that a sport school program for hockey is required.
Partnering with Hockey Canada’s 13 member branches, the skills academy runs in both rural and urban centres throughout Canada, where both minor hockey associations and arena facilities are available. The vision is not to develop future professional or international caliber athletes or Rhodes scholars, but to enhance a student-player’s confidence, individual playing skills, self-esteem and opportunities in both academics and athletics beyond the primary and secondary school system.
In Summerland the program, entering its sixth year, is facilitated by Okanagan Hockey Academy, which takes care of all of the instructional components. This is the first year at the Summerland academy for instructor Randall Weber, who is no stranger to the Hockey Canada Skills Academy thanks to three years with the program in Edmonton.
“It's a great program,” said Weber. “It gets the kids a little more ice time, keeps them in school and teaches them life skills. The best thing is that not all the kids have to be the same age because we are out here working on skills and not scrimmaging which is a great way for them to push each other and challenge their own skills.”
On average, 15 to 25 kids in Grades 9 to 12 per year have signed up for the program. School facilitator Brad Russill said it has been successful, but he would like to see more girls register, especially since Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton has added a female Midget team into their fold. He said for many of the students involved, it has been a way to help them stay interested in school and for others it has been a way to work on their hockey skills and move them onto higher levels.
“It has been a feeder for the Okanagan Hockey Academy,” said Russill. “Kids that have started the program here in Grades 9 and 10 have transitioned to their program full time. One of the students that played for the academy last year was invited to the Kelowna Rockets camp. A lot of the kids in this program are not the sit-down-in-a-classroom type, they need that release. They love hockey and having the opportunity to go out on the ice for 75 minutes or go through a dry land training session, they just thrive on it.”