by Nancy Peckford

Spring not only brings the arrival of warmer weather (in theory at least), but a watershed moment in the lives of many hockey parents – the chance to sleep in! Since October, families with kids under the age of 7 who participated in the Kemptville District Minor Hockey Association’s Initiation Program (IP), have had their alarms permanently set for 6 am (or earlier). That’s because ice time, an extremely valuable commodity, is made available to the youngest players at the earliest possible hours, i.e. between 6:30 and 8:30 am every weekend until March.

As a first time hockey mom, this experience was a total eye opener. Kids’ hockey has gotten a bad wrap in recent years for producing singularly focused child athletes, pushed by hyper competitive parents whose civility falls apart in a hockey arena. I was sceptical that kids’ hockey could be a convivial and potentially community building experience, especially at 6 am with under-slept parents and cranky kids. Boy, was I wrong.

Having registered my 5 year-old son and 7 year-old daughter, I saw up close the hundreds of volunteer hours parents donate per season to providing children in this community with quality hockey instruction and a team building experience. With a son who could barely stand up on the ice, Kemptville’s IP program had him skating, smiling, and holding a stick in short order.

The coaches, mostly dads, on our Winnipeg Jets IP team offered well-run and focused practices, where kids learned the basics, and truly had fun. With these practices often at the crack of dawn, I was amazed by the commitment and skill of not just coaches, but conveners, registrars and managers (moms and dads alike) that everyone brought to each practice, most of whom are juggling full time employment with long commutes during the week (myself included). But it wasn’t just my son’s team.

The Panthers IP had over 80 kids organized into five teams, all of whom were out in force for extremely early morning practices. Fuelled by copious amounts of coffee and camaraderie, seasoned parents welcomed us rookies with tips and good humour.

My daughter Clara, who was unsure of hockey, immediately warmed up to the experience of an all-girls team, Kemptville Storm, with purple jerseys and socks, no less. At 7, she was eligible for novice level hockey, but was offered the opportunity to learn the fundamentals by registering for a year of IP. She was in good company, with five other female players new to hockey also enrolled in the IP program.

Girls’ hockey is growing in this community, with over a dozen teams iced this past season and 180 girls registered. There was great excitement this season with the new logo, and players and parents alike have invested in new branded apparel to show their support for home-town hockey.

North Grenville is one of just a handful of communities that offers a girls’ initiation program, though parents can register their daughters for the co-ed Panthers IP as well. A graduate of some early CanSkate programs, Clara hit the ground running, and had exceptional opportunities to learn the ropes, and even play a few fun match ups against other associations. The atmosphere in the locker room was always positive, and the opportunity for a truly athletic experience on the ice was unparalleled.

The IP season culminated in a Kemptville tournament hosted by both the Panthers and Storm IP teams for fun games on half ice (no scores kept). The 8th Annual Adam Harlow Initiation Program Fun Day is a major fundraiser for the Adam Harlow Fellowship Fund, which seeks to finance the hockey registration fees for families unable to pay them. A fundraising breakfast in Adam’s honour is also offered. Adam was a ten year old boy from Kemptville who died tragically in 1999, but whose memory is kept very much alive through the indomitable efforts of his family.

According to the KDMHA website, approximately 700 players from 4 to 16 years old take to the ice for not just the Initiation Program, but all levels. In turn, 5,500 parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and relatives come to watch their games. Another 4,000 tournament/gaming participants from neighbouring communities come to Kemptville to play hockey. All powered by volunteers.

Like many parents, while I welcome the chance to sleep in, I can’t wait to see what next season has in store. To learn more about kids’ hockey in this community, visit KDMHA’s website at Registration will be opening in April for next season!

Members are also invited to the KDMHA Annual General Meeting on Thursday, April 12, at 7pm in the Community Room at Grenville Mutual Insurance (300 Colonnade Drive). For girls interested in trying hockey, the Association is once again offering ESSO FUN DAYS. These are free introductory session for girls offered at the North Grenville Municipal Centre on Saturday, June 2 and Saturday, June 9. Registration is available on the KDMHA website and participants will receive a jersey to keep!


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