Make Hockey Inclusionary in Ontario
Make Hockey Inclusionary in Ontario
Why this petition matters
Give all kids in Ontario (regardless of skill level) the same opportunities, training and advantages as representative kids.
I have been a hockey parent for a great number of years now. I can remember the day my son decided to want to play hockey as if it was yesterday.
My wife (having not grown up in the hockey world) thought it was a great decision, a chance for him to play a sport and be competitive. For myself, I remember the disappointments, the tryouts, the bench riding and inevitably the end of my hockey career at a young age and didn’t want my son to experience the same.
Full of optimism, my wife and son encouraged me to allow him to play. I remember the adorable times of little ones falling all over the ice. The first goals, the close bonds, the pride and joy of accomplishment from many kids throughout the years.
I have volunteered my time to help teams, encouraged positive play in the dressing room, driven kids across the countryside because their parents could not and had the same done for my kid in turn. All of these great positive experiences are tarnished forever as kids get older. The term “hockey politics” is thrown around so much it has become a cliché.
My son is an average player, has made representative teams in the past (usually years where he is a major) and played representative hockey on Alternative Representative or AE team on other years. He and many other kids are being grossly neglected under the current OMHA rules and in general by the hockey world. They are teased at school for not being “good enough” to join the Representative Teams. They are treated like a band of misfit toys cast aside because of “hockey politics.”
Teams are built prior to tryouts by many handshake deals and kids put on representative teams because of who their parents are or can do for the team. We all know this takes place, but we have put up with it and moved along the status quo in the hopes that next year might be different. I have seen this happen as young as 7.
I am not against local league hockey. In fact, quite the opposite. Anything that allows any kid to enter into hockey at any age and learn is a positive. The coaches (usually parent volunteers), god bless them, have limited knowledge of hockey and teach all kids the game and give the “fun” experience of hockey. What I am opposed to is the kids that know the game and want to continue to grow as players and play at a competitive level who are told they can’t.
Coaching is a position that is interviewed for based on hockey criteria, hockey acumen, and those jobs are handed out the best qualified as they should be. What happens to those kids who are left over, generally they are left to a kid loving hockey parent trying to make sense of it all.
Up until this year, there have been “AE” teams, more or less kids that weren’t good enough to make the representative team but are better than local league kids. Kids that want to compete against kids of equal skill, size, desire and ability. That exists no longer. Not only that, but the rules of the game are different based on what level of play you are signed up for. This lack of development sets kids back, it sets organizations back, and sets the game back. How is it fair to expect kids to develop, grow and compete if the playing field isn’t equal for all who play. If the coaching, training and game are completely different because they weren’t born or labelled elite. This impacts kids as young as 9 right now. Imagine that for a second, being 9 years old, being cut from a representative team with little to no hope of improvement in a game you love.
In the City of Kawartha Lakes alone this affects hundreds of kids. We are a smaller organization but think of how many kids across Ontario this could impact. The math is quite simple really. There are 15 spots on a hockey team and in my home centre there were 63 kids trying out last year for my son’s age bracket alone. Mariposa, Durham, Ennismore and Millbrook also had fully rostered “AE” teams last year. For the younger age group (U11) there were 6 teams of fully rostered “AE” teams. As you can see the problem grows and grows the farther you spread your search radius. In every division in CoKL there are two birth years of children U9 U11 U13 U15 U18 and it’s a fair assessment to say the older and more experienced kids are more likely to get future spots.
Every hockey parent knows the disappointment in a kid's face when they aren’t picked to join a team. I was taught, if you don't make it, work harder and practice and next year you can try again. This would be fine if the game wasn’t stacked against them. In the CoKL there were multiple “AE” teams last year alone. Those kids will be forced into Local League this year. They cannot join another organization that might need kids so they can play competitively because this too is against OMHA rules.
The elite can travel to other organizations with an NRP but only if you are playing at a higher level. Why not allow all kids the same privileges regardless of their skill level? Why not allow kids who want to play contact hockey the ability to do so even if they aren’t good enough to make their local centre.
Hockey has had a tough enough couple years with the onset of COVID. Kids were forced to adapt as we all were, dressing in the parking lot, altered play, small team sizes and stoppage of play all together. The mental anxiety associated with the pandemic and lack of sport was supposed to be lifted with the return to play this year. Now with the reduction of competitive hockey many kids are left without a place to compete. I have spoken to many parents in similar situations and they too are frustrated. They too have tried to do what is best for their child to learn, grow and develop only to be stonewalled by organizations or OMHA restrictions. I would think that all kids regardless of skill level have the right to play and opportunity to advance if they put in the work. This simply isn’t possible with the current format proposed.
Would it not be better for a kid to have the ability to play on many different types of teams. For them to face kids of an equal caliber regardless of geographic location restrictions or population base. Kids can handle rejection from teams they tryout for and get cut from. Yes, there are some broken hearts but it's an important life lesson to persevere through life’s struggles. These are the same kids who would rather sit on the bench and cheer on their team than hinder it during an important game. They simply want to develop and be a part of the competition. There are so many negatives in hockey that shouldn’t be, DO NOT allow this to be one of them. You are punishing the kids that truly love the game and hold its values and principles dear to their hearts.
OMHA, its associations, parents and even some players have created a two tier system of worth. This is discrimination regardless of however you look at it and teaches kids they are destined to be slotted at a young age without the chance to move up. That will not play the game the same way their schoolmates do. The rules will be different and they can't change that. To top this all off, it does it at a very young age. Surely, this cannot be the way OMHA wants to have the game played in the future. Imagine if your child was given different learning paths in school, if they were ostracized for not being at the same as their peers and they could never attend a higher institution of learning at the age of 7 or 8 years old. Children develop at a very different rate and fundamentally not be deterred from competition.
It is time to change hockey, to have some honest conversations about the culture this has created and the groups of disappointed kids that have been excluded. I have sent this to my local Member of Parliament Jamie Schmale and will be forwarding this to the media and starting a petition to see if other parents agree.
Same rules need to be applied to all kids in sport. Whether you are AAA or DD or LL.