Spoiler alert: this blog is not one of my usual social or political commentaries regarding the sports world.
Rather, it is written in honor of all the parents whose children play team sports. It is for those parents and coaches who spend their days, hours, time, and commitment, in understanding how playing team sports during childhood and adolescence, builds passion, drive, and capacity for interpersonal relationships in our children's character and future lives.
Chicago hockey fans are being treated to one of the most exciting seasons on record. Not only are we captured by the Chicago Blackhawks’ every game, along with their record setting start of consecutive wins in regulation, but to another hockey experience that will hardly become a blip on the screen to most Chicago – area fans, as the Hawks play their rival Red Wings today.
Team Illinois (TI) Boys’ AAA Hockey team beat the country’s # 1 – Boys AAA ranked team, Chicago Mission, on Wednesday and Saturday, winning the first two games out of a "best of three" finals tournament. All the players were born in 2002, now 10 – 11 yrs. old. Each member of TI flew on to the ice in a flurry of excitement, after their 3-2 victory, spreading a Blackhawks banner in celebration of their victory at the Arctic Ice Arena in Orland Park.
Tier I AAA Hockey consists of teams in the central and Midwestern U.S. While playing in this U.S. Hockey League (USHL), expenses are paid for by the team alone; no equipment or membership fees are charged. Given the rise of excitement and interest in hockey here in the U.S., the quality of play has improved in the past 10 - 15 years, with approximately 10% of NHL players having played USHL in their career.
Many Canadian provinces and U.S. states organize regional and provincial championship tournaments, where school-aged children are encouraged to learn the game and continue to compete at progressively more challenging levels of play.
Jonathan Toews, for example, played in midget AAA hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota in 2003. Patrick Kane, at 14 yrs. old, played for the Honeybaked AAA hockey club in Detroit. The club is a part of the Midwest Elite Hockey League.
Team Illinois Hockey is considered one of the best in the Midwest Region, traveling to tournaments as far as Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Romeoville in Will County. This league sent 6 of 7 teams in various age ranges, to the State Finals last year. As the T.I. Hockey.com website states, “ Throughout North America, Team Illinois is the most respected Tier I, AAA Hockey Organization in Illinois. Team Illinois participates in the finest, most competitive AAA league in the United States as well as the most prestigious tournaments in North America”.
For more than twenty years, TI has involved both young women and men with an opportunity to learn the game of hockey. TI prides itself on “producing not just great hockey players, but exceptional human beings,” writes Scott Norton, President.
After he gathered his breath and got a chance to talk to this South Side Sports Chick, Isaiah Gagerman, 10 years old, was more than happy to say a few words for this blog.
Isaiah Gagerman with Championship Cup
SSSC: So Isaiah, congratulations to you and your teammates on your big win. How are you feeling right now?
Isaiah: Great! (panting, with multiple voices in the background during the interview)
SSSC: What do you like about hockey?
Isaiah: Physicalness, aggressiveness, and all my friendships.
SSSC: How old were you when you started playing?
Isaiah: 6 yrs. old. But every year, we start every season playing in October, after school starts.
SSSC: What have you learned from playing?
Isaiah: Huh? What?
SSSC: How do you think it has helped you, like what you said, as, in your friendships, or in other things, say like, in growing up?
Isaiah: Oh, that. Well, like growing up, it’s helped to be a better person, being nicer and more polite to everyone.
SSSC: Anything else that hockey has helped you with?
Isaiah: Well, yeah, like, um, getting into shape, and eating right.
SSSC: Where do all the other players come from?
Isaiah: Well, I’m in Glenview, and I have friends from west Dundee, and places farther away. And when we play in tournaments far away, we even play some Canadian teams.
SSSC: Where is the home ice rink?
Isaiah: In Elgin at the Leass Ice Center.
SSSC: So a lot of players come from all over to play and practice there?
Isaiah: Yeah. Well, I have to go now. We’re all sleeping over at my friend's house to celebrate! He's on the team.
SSSC: Hold on if you can, just a few more things, okay? What position do you play?
SSSC: And do you play a full hour, with three-20 minute periods?
Isaiah: No. 17 minute periods.
SSSC: So now that you have won the Illinois State Championship, is there a national championship tournament that you go to?
Isaiah: Yeah – that’s the next step. But I don’t know when that is.
SSSC: And how are you feeling now after talking with me?
Isaiah: Very excited! Adrenaline pumping!
SSSC: Well congratulations again to everyone on the team. I’m so proud of you.
Isaiah: Thanks Aunt Janice. Bye!
So lets applause the following young men, who someday may grace our hockey rinks throughout the country: Zachary Bader, A.J. Cornelison, Brad Crook, Maxwell Dukovac, Adrian Franco, Isaiah Gagerman, Jack Kazmierczak, Hank Kempf, Martin Marnauzs, Danny McCarthy, Joseph McKenna, Mack Oliphant, Jake Proszenyak, Tyler Ryan, Shane Soderwall, and Kyle Wells.
And kudos to their Head Coach, Sean Berens, with Assistant Coaches Brent Wells, Ray Berens, Paul Dukovac, and the Team Manager, Allison Bader, firstname.lastname@example.org. For without them, these young men would not have shared this moment together, encoded in memory for a lifetime.
And as I finish this story regarding one team among hundreds, my own memory of being one of those parents quickly returns. Traveling over 700 miles to watch my son play on his men's college tennis team is one blip in many, along with the baseball, tennis, and basketball teams that literally "drove" our weekly lives for both our sons. Of course it was worth it - every date circled on the kitchen calendar, every tank full of gas, and every load of laundry done daily.
We can only wonder, as I’m sure these hockey parents do each night, as they car pool them home from another practice, drive hundreds of miles to their long week-end tournaments, or squeeze in their homework while stuck in traffic jams as snow falls, if they’ll ever play at our own Madhouse on Madison. Just click your heals, Moms and Dads, and your rainbow may appear.