The 2014 Esso Cup coming to Stoney Creek, Ont., means more than just the chance for the hometown Sabres to play for Canada’s National Female Midget Championship. It’s also given some local Grade 3 and 4 students the opportunity to step on the ice, many for the first time.
Thanks to RBC Play Hockey and the Learn to Skate program, 50 students from Prince of Wales Elementary School in Hamilton were outfitted in new skates and helmets and given three weeks of on-ice instruction.
RBC wanted to further its commitment to grassroots hockey and decided one way was to become more involved in the communities hosting Hockey Canada’s national events. It approached the Hamilton-Wentworth public and catholic school boards and invited schools interested in the program to apply.
The application submitted by Lindsay Smith and Evelyn LeBoeuf, Grade 3 and Grade 4/5 teachers, respectively, at Prince of Wales, struck a chord with the Play Hockey panel.
Prince of Wales is located in an inner-city area, and Smith and LeBoeuf were eager to give their students the chance to take part in an activity they may not otherwise get to enjoy.
“We thought it would be an amazing opportunity for them to learn a new skill,” says Smith, the enthusiasm in her voice still evident. It would also help students with their social skills, as well as skills in working with and learning from others. “And [it would build] determination, perseverance, character and education skills.”
Both Smith and LeBoeuf have figure skating backgrounds – LeBoeuf still coaches – and were eager to share their love of the ice with their students.
Once a week, for three weeks, the teachers and their students walked to nearby Scott Park Arena for an hour of lessons.
The kids were divided into three groups. For the newbies, the first stint on the ice involved as much time clinging to the boards as it did trying to glide in the open. First skate excitement overwhelmed first skate exhaustion, though, and the second time out the students noticed their own improvement.
“They were saying things like, ‘Look, I can already do this,’ or ‘I’m doing better than last time,’” says Smith. “You could see them gradually progress over the three weeks.”
For the kids who had skated before they got to work on more advanced moves, including skating backward, jumping, and touching a knee to the ice.
Grade 3 student Finn says his favourite part of the program was the tennis ball game. “First people would roll the ball at you and you had to dodge it,” he says. “If the ball touched you would have to roll the ball too.”
Classmate Makenzie’s need for speed influenced her choice.
“The thing I liked most was when we had races with hockey nets and we went really fast.”
The organized instruction has now ended, so the question now is, will the kids continue to skate on their own.
“Of course I will continue skating because it’s fun and it’s good for your legs,” says Finn.
He may have a skate buddy in Shyann. “It’s my dream to be in the Olympics,” she says.
“The program has opened the students’ eyes to something they never thought they could do,” says Smith. “Some of them are really encouraging their parents to get there with them.”
The parents will soon get to see for themselves what their kids have learned. During the first intermission of the April 22 evening game at the Esso Cup, the students will demonstrate their new skills and LeBoeuf will accept a banner for the school.
The kids’ skates and helmets will become an equipment library at Prince of Wales. Having been the recipients of the generosity of others, says Smith, they would love the chance to pay it forward. “A couple of years ago an ice rink was built beside our school and we were able to borrow skates from another school,” she says. “We would love to offer our skates if anyone ever needed them.”
For more information on RBC Learn to Skate grants and how to submit an application, CLICK HERE.