2016-11-24 / Sports

New Recruiting Efforts Bringing Success for St. Ignace Hockey

By John Raffel

It’s time to start another hockey season in St. Ignace. Numbers continue to be a challenge for the St. Ignace Hockey Association.

But there’s been some major promise for this season.

The association for the 2016-2017 season will have five divisions which includes the Initiation/Mite program for under six and under eight. Other divisions are squirt (nine-10), peewee (11-12), bantam (13-14), and midget (under 18).

The association’s president is Bridgett Sorenson, who has been in that role four years and with the association 10 years. Her son’s been playing 14 years.

“Last year to this year, we’re up 22%,” Ms. Sorenson said. “We’re building up from the bottom right now. The last two years, we’ve struggled with younger kids. We’ve done a lot of recruiting, advertising, and all kinds of things to generate more kids at the younger group. That’s why we’ve increased this year. I’m very happy.

“We spent money on buying equipment this year. We have probably spent about $3,000 on buying bags of equipment we can get from Total Hockey, where the bags are about $100 and the only thing they don’t include are the sticks and skates. Then the parents don’t have to worry about buying equipment. They write us a $50 deposit and at the end of the year, if they return the equipment, they get the check back. That’s really helped because equipment can be very expensive.”

The association doesn’t charge anything for youngsters eight and younger.

“This year we included anybody that is a first-time skater who is under 12 and would be free this season,” Ms. Sorenson said. “That’s helped, also.”

Games started in November. The home rink is Little Bear Ice Arena.

“We spend about $40,000 to $45,000 a year in ice fees,” Ms. Sorenson said. “Our rink is very well maintained.”

Andrea Insley, an assistant city clerk at St. Ignace, is the association’s registrar and is in her second year in that position.

“My sons are both in hockey and have been for the last five years,” she said. “The hockey season is a very long one. The older end of our group is very structured. Time and money are always sensitive areas for everyone involved. There’s a lot of it that can go into hockey. In the past five years, the association, together with the visitors bureau and the fundraising they’ve done, and all of their efforts, have made it a free event for those [younger than eight]. We’ve worked very hard to try to get the younger groups in.”

Chris “Iffer” Marshall is association vice president.

“We’re a small association,” Mr. Marshall said. “The biggest challenge for us is numbers and getting kids to play, especially the younger kids.”

While St. Ignace is the center for league activity, Mr. Marshall noted there was also a family from Engadine participating and there are others from Mackinaw City, Sault Ste. Marie, and Cheboygan.

The association has sponsors and fundraisers to help with expenses.

“But we’ve been struggling because the population isn’t there,” Ms. Insley said. “Even the younger groups, you’d want 10 members or a few more on each team. But in the past, we’ve had seven here or eight there. So when someone is injured, it becomes a big issue. We’ve been struggling with the population end of it. We don’t have the people. In northern Michigan, versus southern Michigan where there are plenty of rinks around and you have population around them, our population is spread out.”

As a result, the association, Ms. Insley said, has tried to be more present in the community.

“The hockey association was enjoying the fact that we had a lot of kids as part of our association for quite a few years in a row,” she said. “We had fundraising out there, but weren’t working extra hard to do all that we could. Now that the population is declining, we’ve done things, like we’re in parades now, or are in schools or visiting libraries having open houses, so people can come in and ask questions. They get the misunderstanding that it does cost so much. It’s not so much about the dollar amount than it is the commitment that is needed.”

For this season, there are 11 players for peewee, 19 for midget BB, 12 for bantam, 10 for squirt, and 11 for mites.

The hockey association’s Web site provides more specifics on fees and opportunities available to youngsters.

Ms. Insley noted the arena is owned by the city and the hockey association is currently the main tenant.

Mr. Marshall said there have been other activities, such as “try hockey for free” clinics to increase interest.

“I know we are in the process of talking to local schools, and our midget hockey team, our older boys, are going to go in and do reading hockey books with some of the younger grades,” Mr. Marshall said. “It’s whatever we can do to spark interest.”

Mr. Marshall has enjoyed his interest in the sport.

“I have an older son, Drew, a senior in high school now,” Mr. Marshall said. “When he was a freshman in high school, he went out for hockey the first year ever. He was a part of a team that bonded so well. He gained so much confidence of being a part of that team. It’s a good morale booster for the kids.”

Mr. Marshall praised the volunteers who have worked with the program.

“We’ve had great coaches that are great with kids and have had success with our program,” he said. “I’ve coached football, but with hockey, because you go to a motel and stay with each other [when competing in other towns], there’s a lot of bonding that goes on.”

Scott Marshall is city recreation director and facility manager, and he works with the hockey program.

“The association is separate; they are a customer,” he said. “We provide ice as a service to the association. We run skating programs as feeder programs to the association.”

Scott Marshall is encouraged with the recent growth.

“The initiation to hockey programs looks better this year,” he said. “We are a small community. Ice facilities in large cities are struggling. For us to have an ice facility in a small town the size of ours is remarkable. Ice facilities rent ice. We don’t have a customer base large enough to support it. So we run hockey tournaments to supplement the revenue, which is good for the local economy. So for us to be successful, we need the hockey association to be successful and we need our hockey tournaments to be successful. We work hard on providing the best service for both.

“Our hockey tournaments are the best in the state,” he continued. “We have a great reputation for running hockey tournaments. The hotels and restaurants do a wonderful job accommodating visiting teams with high quality service at an affordable price. There are many uncontrollable factors that contribute to a successful season. Not being able to control everything is the scary part. Running facilities like ice arenas and fitness centers in a small town is tough, and like I said, we don’t have the population to support it, so every year is a struggle and that probably won’t ever change and that is reality.’”

As for the future, Ms. Sorenson said, “We’ve been working harder with this younger group. The future was bleak until last year and this year. Our midget team has had a waiting list the last several years. But those kids are aging out. We’ll give it our best shot.”

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