Kids and hockey… an expense, or an investment?

During Olympic season we see lots of television advertising about the child who aspires to win Gold, the kid with the hockey bag, lugging it out the door to practice with an NHL contract on his (or her) radar screen.

With Barrie being a hockey town, we’ve certainly sent our share of minor hockey players into the professional ranks. With the Junior A Colts now taking the place of the fan furor bestowed on the former Barrie Flyers (Senior A, during its day), hockey continues to be one sinew holding our sports community together.

Last week the Barrie Minor Hockey League gave a round of applause to Tom Purcell as he stepped down as president for the past three years. For the past nine years, Tom has served on the Executive of Barrie Minor Hockey. Prior to that he coached for nine years.

As a volunteer position, this is equal to running a large business… think about it!
1,450 customers (kids)
3,000 overseeing executives (parents)
thousands of middle management people (coach, trainer, manager and assistant coach for each of 85 teams)
hours and hours of scheduling at four different locations for 27 rep teams and 58 house league teams
coordination of at lest 350 volunteers
20 division convenors
3 on the tournament committee
an annual operating budget of $1.3 million a year

Barrie Minor Hockey is all that and more and, as president, Tom Purcell has been juggling his love of the game, his commitment to his hockey-playing son, his commitment to good hockey for ALL players, and his full time job as an air traffic controller at Pearson International Airport.

Come to think of it, Tom’s day job (actually, it’s shifts) prepares him well for the enormity of juggling an association like Barrie Minor Hockey.

BMH is facing huge challenges right now… ice time is $165 per hour; more older kids than younger kids in the game and the challenges of playing rep hockey as opposed to house league. When Barrie Minor Hockey started it was 1971 and there were 11 teams! There are huge technology challenges to heading up a league like this. Being able to register and pay online, being able to reach all families with one email. Tom recalls when he got involved with Barrie Minor Hockey two decades ago, they used to vote on the budget scratched out on a piece of paper. Now it’s a spreadsheet with monthly financial statements.

Nothing can compare to the delight on a kid’s face coming off the ice and shouting “I rock!” says Tom. Learning how to get better, how to work as a team … those are two of the real benefits of hockey. Commitment is a strong third and it often involves the whole family as a rep player has a minimum of 2-3 practices a week and 2-3 games a week… that hockey player can be on the ice four or five days a week. House league participants do one practice and one game per week. That’s a lot of parental coordination. And Tom says many families have more than one kid in hockey!

Tom coached for several years before getting involved at the executive level. As a parent he looks at the cost of playing hockey and says it breaks out like this: Equipment can cost from 0 to $600, depending on hand me downs etc; $450 a year for BMH fees, $700 a year for entry fees for a rep player and $300 for tournaments. So not counting equipment, a family is looking at a cost of $1,500 a year per kid.

“We have families with 2 and 3 kids in hockey and it’s a logistical nightmare as well as being expensive. One kid might be playing in Oshawa and another in Orillia and parents cooperate to ferry kids back and forth to games.

“Ninety-nine % of our players are not going to the NHL. I feel we should create an environment where kids want to go to the rink and the coach emphasizes playing, not on the number of wins.” Tom says he hopes all BMH coaches follow Scotty Bowman’s ritual… 4 lines continuously for education and performance. No playing favourites.

Tom says that 80-90% of hockey parents are good people who want their kids to have fun. He says it’s a shame the game gets tainted and the coaches get ‘burned’ by 10-20% who are loud and demanding and have never played a game in their lives!

For Tom, despite years of budgets and the tearful challenge of emptying out the BMH locker at the Dunlop Arena, the best part of hockey is coaching a team. And the best moment occurs on the last day, the end of the season when a kid looks up at you and says “Are you going to pick me next year? I want to play with you next year!”

Tom played hockey himself, for a dozen teams as his dad made the air force rounds from base to base. He loves hockey and he loves coaching. He figures that’s where he’ll be next year… behind a coaches bench with some enthusiastic kids who are very proud of themselves, and everyone else on the team!

Hockey is the perfect metaphor for getting along in life. You need great skill but you have to let other people play their parts; you need to have mental and physical strength. You take what happens and play the next game.

Thanks, Tom.