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Post Welcome to Sam Abrams; College Ice Hockey
Created by John Eipper on 04/08/19 6:31 AM

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Welcome to Sam Abrams; College Ice Hockey (Enrique Torner, USA, 04/08/19 6:31 am)

I would like to offer a warm WAIS welcome Sam Abrams. His essay on Finnish education was impressive and a personal eye-opener. I'm looking forward to reading more WAIS posts from him.

Our dear editor mentioned that Sam Abrams is an expert on ice hockey, and brought to light the fact that Adrian College has become an ice hockey powerhouse in Division III. I am not an expert on hockey at all, but our Minnesota State University, Mankato's team has won a respectable reputation in the US as well. After some Googling both colleges (and I don't mean this in a competitive spirit, John!), I discovered that Adrian College is, indeed, a small private college, affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Adrian is even smaller than Minnesota State, with Adrian having a student population of 1654 (all undergraduates), and MSU, Mankato over 15,000 (we do have graduate programs, mostly master's degrees, but a few doctoral degrees). Given this size difference, it really surprised me to find out that Adrian College has the largest ice hockey program in the country, according to Wikipedia:


So, congratulations are in order, John! As I was checking on Adrian College, I have to say that Adrian looks like a beautiful college and campus, with a long history going back to 1859. Our college is not quite as old: it was founded in 1868 as Mankato Normal School, serving 27 students! It became Mankato State Teachers College in 1921, Mankato State College in 1957, Mankato State University in 1975, and, in 1998, Minnesota State University, Mankato, its current name.

Even though I am a real "ignoramus" in ice hockey, I do feel proud of our team's recent accomplishments, and would like to reveal the current standing of our team at the national level, which, to be completely honest, positively surprised and impressed me. According to the following ranking, our Division I team (Men's) is now 6th in the nation, but it was 3rd about 2 weeks ago:


I wonder if our new WAIS colleague, Sam Abrams, could offer us his take on Adrian College and Minnesota State's hockey teams from the perspective of someone who knows what he's talking about. I commend Sam for his commitment to the betterment of children at Harlem, and wish him the best. Welcome, Sam!

JE comments: Yes, welcome! And I'm grateful to Enrique Torner for pointing out a fact I didn't know: Adrian College has the largest hockey program in the country. I was amply aware that we have four (!) men's teams and two women's teams, together with synchronized skating (two teams) for the women. I'd say about 1/5 of my students do something on ice.

Adrian built its arena in 2007, primarily as a way to grow enrollment.  Small schools have to find a niche to stand out.  I particularly appreciate how hockey and skating have attracted students from a large geographic area, not only the US and Canada, but Europe as well.

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  • Minnesota State U and Hockey (Sam Abrams, USA 04/09/19 4:39 AM)
    Thank you, Enrique Torner, for your warm welcome to WAIS.

    I indeed know of the hockey program at Minnesota State. In fact, in 2015 the New York Times published a laudatory story about the coach, Mike Hastings, and his impressive impact.

    As for Minnesota and hockey, in general, the state sets the national standard for appropriate administration and funding. Much like the Nordic countries, the ancestral source of many Minnesotans, the state generously funds community rinks, which makes hockey as well as figure skating far more affordable than in other states across the country.

    In addition, local high schools--rather than regional junior programs focused on developing professionals--are the hubs of great hockey in Minnesota and thus that much more anchors of communities. Games on Friday nights throughout the state sell out, so much so that the NHL team in Minnesota, the Minnesota Wild, does not play home games on Friday nights. I learned this from a coach with USA Hockey and then checked the Wild's schedule. Indeed, all Friday night games are away games.

    As for Ice Hockey in Harlem, it essentially derives from the Minnesota model of affordable local hockey. The 250 boys and girls, ages 5-18, come from no more than a short subway ride away. And the program is free, due to volunteer coaches as well as funding from the Rangers, the NHL, and individual donors.

    Speaking of volunteer coaches, Enrique and John, if you have any hockey playing students heading from Minnesota and Michigan to New York, please let them know about the program. We always need good coaches.

    JE comments:  I'll put out the word, Sam.  I've observed first-hand the biggest obstacle to hockey and skating--the extremely high costs of equipment, travel, and rink time.  This has done more than anything to keep hockey and figure skating middle- to upper-class and mostly lily white.  Sam, when time permits, I'd love to learn more about how the Harlem program is changing this.

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    • Making Youth Hockey Affordable: Ice Hockey in Harlem (Sam Abrams, USA 04/23/19 5:09 PM)
      John E's concerns about the high costs of equipment, travel, and ice time for youth hockey players are well justified.  (See John's comments on my post of April 9th.)  And an article in today's Wall Street Journal entitled "Parents' Bets on Athletics Miss the Mark" buttresses your concerns.

      According to the article, parents, on average, spend $5,543 on tournaments and travel along with $2,764 on equipment per teenager per year playing competitive hockey. Despite such spending, only a small fraction of players fulfill parental hopes of winning college scholarships.

      In answer to your question, Ice Hockey in Harlem and programs similar to it get around such high costs by 1) staying local and 2) recycling equipment, some of which we get from private school teams in New York and some of which we pass down from older players in the program to younger players until the equipment needs to be replaced.

      Staying local, it should be noted, not only saves us and similar programs a lot of money but also serves the academic well-being of young players. Travel for just two games can consume entire weekends and thus crowd out time for reading and related pursuits.

      It is accordingly no wonder hockey players are not known for excellence in the classroom. The dean of admissions at Amherst College made this clear in a 2006 article in Businessweek about the college's new commitment to admit promising underprivileged but underachieving students and provide them with heavy tutoring over the summer and during the year to get them up to speed and keep them on course. Against objections from professors at Amherst that the college should not admit students who ranked a 3 or below on its academic scale of 1 to 5, the dean of admissions said that if the college did not admit 3s, it would not have a hockey team.

      Setting aside this matter of preferential treatment of athletes by college admissions offices, which has of late been much in the news, there is no need for so much travel. In fact, there is no need for so many games. The amount of travel and the number of games merely satisfies the needs of parents and coaches with grand aspirations. Staying local and scheduling more practices in place of games should, in fact, lead to better skill development, as players are on the ice and engaged throughout practices yet take turns in short shifts off the bench during games.

      This problem is not new. The aspirations of parents and coaches have reigned for decades. My father, in this regard, recently showed me a newspaper clipping about the team I played on as a peewee (ages 10-12) in the mid-1970s in Holyoke, Massachusetts. We had won the regional championship. Our record: 35-15-9, for a total of 59 games, which is more than double the number of games played this year by nearby Amherst College, 26.

      When I was at Amherst this past fall to give a lecture on Milton Friedman and education policy, I met with the coach of the Amherst team to discuss Ice Hockey in Harlem and youth hockey in general. The coach, Jack Arena, who played at the college and has been the coach there since 1983, said he agreed there's too much travel and too many games in youth hockey. Arena attributed the problem to an arms race among parents and coaches.

      The solution, in my opinion, is threefold:

      1) Regulation, which would come from USA Hockey, the organization based in Colorado Springs that authorizes programs and certifies coaches. USA Hockey could and should restrict authorization to programs that schedule no more than 20 games per season and at least two practices for every game. Such regulation applies to youth sports across the board, from hockey to soccer and baseball.

      2) Community support for rinks. Youth hockey is far more affordable in Minnesota, as I noted in my earlier posting, because of such support. Here in New York City, Riverbank State Park provides a youth hockey program that costs between $212 and $247 per player per season and includes two 90-minute practices during the week and one or two games per weekend.

      3) Equipment recycling. Kids outgrow equipment pretty fast. Through well-coordinated effort, leagues can launder used equipment and pass it down, which is basic, as I noted, to making Ice Hockey in Harlem work.

      JE comments:  I never made the (obvious) connection between sports travel time and poor academic performance, but it is true that my hockey-playing students miss a great deal of class.  The Adrian teams travel enormous distances, to places such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Upstate New York.  Ten or more hours on a bus is not uncommon.

      Sam Abrams's call for fewer games makes a great deal of sense.  But in the case of hockey, wouldn't there be protests from the US that it would put home-grown players at a disadvantage vis-à-vis Canada and Europe?

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