NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The crowd of pint-sized hockey hopefuls wobbling tentatively around the ‘B’ rink at Centennial Sportsplex looked and sounded like a typical group spending the morning at USA Hockey’s “Try Hockey For Free” program.
Students clad in yellow jerseys teetered from the dasher boards to the foam dividers to the waiting arms and encouraging words of sports educators. In the stands and along the glass, parents cheered, clapped, and took pictures and videos for relatives and the moms and dads who couldn’t be there.
Under most circumstances, a parent missing an event is not a big deal. However, this is not a typical youth sports event. The sixth annual session of Try Hockey For Free program in Nashville, part of the 2013 Hockey Weekend Across America Try Hockey Day presented by the NHL, was specifically aimed at children who have a parent in the military currently deployed somewhere far from home.
For Andee Boiman, the Nashville Predators’ Director of Youth Marketing and Fan Development, this event is part of a longstanding tradition of offering support to the military families who call Fort Campbell home. Military Monday discounts, visits to the base by the team and in-game salutes are part of the organizational culture.
“This is just one more avenue for us as a professional sports organization to partner with such a special group,” she said. “Fort Campbell is not too far from our own backyard, so we’re happy to be able to give the children of deployed military personnel the chance to try hockey. It’s a way for us to give back to them.”
These events provide an opportunity for some families to try something new while others see it as a little bit of home. One mother originally from New York watched as her son skated on to the ice.
“This is the first time in two years he’s been able to play,” she said. “He was really excited to find out we would be doing this.”
Robert Jenkins, Director of Public Affairs at Fort Campbell, affirms that efforts to reach out from the hockey community are appreciated.
“Soldiers and their families at Fort Campbell come from around the country,” he said. “Many are from areas where hockey is as strong a sport as football, which is still the prominent sport in the [Nashville] area. This opportunity helps provide a ‘piece of home’ to some. It also acquaints others with a hockey experience.”
One parent cited the distance from Fort Campbell as a reason her family is not more involved in youth hockey. Boiman acknowledged that this is a concern for many parents who live outside metro Nashville.
“There are a number of families from Fort Campbell who take part in the NYHL,” she said of the Nashville Youth Hockey League. “They recognize that distance can be a barrier to kids who want to participate. So what they do is put all of the children from the same area on a team and they carpool. The rinks have really been accommodating to help kids who live a little farther away.”
Kim Taylor stood by as her 8-year-old son took his first tentative steps in hockey gear.
“If he stays upright on the ice,” she said, “we’ll be very thrilled. We went ice-skating about three months ago. He enjoyed it, but he had a very difficult time with it. So if he can stay up, I will be very excited. When he found out he was going to do this he was ecstatic.”
For the record, he not only stayed up, with the help of the Predators G.O.A.L. (Get Out And Learn) volunteers he started to move around the ice with more confidence.
He wasn’t the only one who looked upon this as a test. According to Boiman, this version of Try Hockey For Free was intended to be a pilot to gage interest.
“We had over 50 kids pre-register for the event,” she said. “So it tells us there are kids interested. We understand that the cycle at Fort Campbell changes with the number of families who are there and have the ability to come and take part. We want to offer as many as we can to get more kids playing hockey up there.”
Jenkins sees events like those hosted by the Nashville Youth Hockey League and the Predators as something that means a fun morning, but he stresses that events like this “serve as a reminder to military personnel and their families that they are recognized for the challenges they face and the sacrifices they make in answering the nation’s call to duty.”
“It is,” he said, “most welcome and appreciated.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.