When is enough, enough? This is a question parents should be asking themselves as their kids go through the programs in search of the elusive scholarship and maybe a shot at a professional career. Yet with less than 1 percent making it to Division 1 status and fewer to the pros, tens of thousands of parents across the country feel that their ten-year-old kid is somehow the exception to the rule, the "Real Deal."
I know one 16-year-old who has all of the tools to be the "Real Deal" except for one. He is only 5'4" and has not grown for a couple years. But he and his parents are still hoping for a growth spurt. What if he doesn't grow any taller? What then?
I have been told about a young man playing junior hockey as a senior in high school in the North American Hockey League. He has moved over 1,000 miles to play for the team. Both of his parents are deceased, and his 20-something sister is his legal guardian. The youngster cannot afford to pay the $300 monthly billet fee for room and board, so it is being waived. I am told his academics are a train wreck and test scores are poor.
What does the future hold for this young man? Is hockey the right avenue? Who is responsible for giving him guidance? That same team has several players with ACT scores of 17. Not much chance of a college deal unless they are lights out on the rink, and they are not.
Perhaps junior hockey team owners and general managers should require that their players have ACT scores at least at the national averages, good academic success in high school, and be good candidates for college before they accept them on the team. All of those leagues claim to be development leagues to get kids to the next level, but do they really care when they allow players who are academicilly challenged to participate? I think not.
Although Junior hockey provides an opportunity for players to develop physically and mentally before moving on to college, most do not move on to higher levels. Especially from Tier 2 and Tier 3 teams. One could argue that these kids are just delaying the inevitable. Since most all college coaches seem to insist that their incoming freshmen play two years of junior hockey after high school, thousands of players populate junior teams all over the country in the hope of playing hockey in college. The junior teams are for-profit businesses first, and development programs second. USA Hockey should be looking at these programs and setting some strict guidelines for the operation of the teams. Players' rights and needs should come first.
I have always believed that helping, and maybe even insisting, that kids excel in the classroom is the right thing to do. At least, then, they have options in the likely event that a professional sports career does not work out. A great education is a lifelong gift from parents to their children. Off-ice performance should be a requirement before on-ice performance.