Spotlight on …
Waltham Youth Hockey
President: Mark Hickey
Player count: 300+
What they’re doing right: The Waltham Youth Hockey Orientation Guide.
Thanks to Hickey, who has been with the organization for more than 20 years, and the program’s secretary, Ron Ayers, it’s 16 pages of youth hockey gold to mine for parents and families in the organization. Born from the surveys Waltham encourages (about 300-400 are returned each year) and to help answer questions for players moving from in-house to travel, it is not only written in a conversational tone, but it also sets expectations for practices and games throughout the year while weaving in the mission of the program.
“We try to make it as fun as possible,” says Hickey, “and we try to make it as much of a community aspect as possible. You have your games, you have your practices, you have your good coaches and you want the kids to get better. But the biggest component is to make sure that it’s fun for everybody.”
Each year, Waltham’s program includes more than simply hockey games or off-ice training. There may be team dinners or rock climbing outings or hiking or street hockey. On the chance of a 7 a.m. game, maybe a manager might help pull together a pancake and egg breakfast to make things just that much more enjoyable.
“That was a huge component for people,” Hickey says. “Because they build a team up, they build teamwork and they build friendships.”
Parents are asked to give their sons a daughters a little room, too. The locker room, that is. In Hickey’s view, a factor in that teamwork and those friendships comes through those players being in the room.
“One of the most fun parts of this thing is being part of the team,” says Hickey. “In mites and squirts, it’s fine if you come in and tie your son or daughter’s skates but maybe leave 15 minutes before so the coach can come inside, make sure everything is set and then go to the ice. We find no use for parents in the locker room in bantam and midget.”
The orientation guide even gives some love to the officials.
“There’s a shortage of referees,” says Hickey, who reaches out to players to recruit for wearing stripes. “And you might have a 17- or 18-year-old kid, and he’s making more money than his friends are at the Chateau restaurant, but, all of a sudden, parents are yelling at them and coaches are yelling at them, and [he or she thinks], ‘I’ll go to work at the Chateau.’ You ruin all the work we’ve done to reach out and try to invite kids to ref.”
The best thing about running this program is …
Says Hickey: “My favorite thing about running the program is probably seeing how happy the kids are and seeing how much hockey is loved.”
The last word
“Try to make it a community that is hard to leave,” Hickey says of running the town program. “There are so many lifelong friendships that come out of [playing]. Have fun, stay positive. The No. 1 thing is to have fun. That’s what it really comes down to.”
Mark works for the Boston Red Sox during the hockey "off-season". He still keeps the kids smiling by swiping those scary foul balls and then giving the baseballs to them. See the below video for more: