Part one of two
Ensuring junior hockey players get a good education happens in Port Alberni like nowhere else on the continent, Tom McEvay states unequivocally.
“I know there’s no other junior hockey organization at major junior or Junior A … in North America that has focus on education that results in every player doing something (academically),” the Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ educational adviser said in a recent interview at the Alberni Valley Multiplex.
McEvay, who’s helped Bulldogs get a good education since 2004, has impeccable credentials to support that bold statement.
A retired school principal with more than 30 years of experience as an educator, he played in the major junior Western Hockey League. He earned a bachelors degree in education from the University of B.C. while on a hockey scholarship, adding a masters degree in educational leadership from the University of Victoria.
As the B.C. Junior Hockey League squad notes on its website, its educational program is recognized by the Canadian Junior Hockey League and by NCAA Division 1 U.S. college programs as one of the best in North America.
That meshes with the BCHL’s Smart Hockey philosophy.
“Each year, dozens of BCHL graduates accept scholarships to top universities and colleges in Canada and the United States,” the league notes on its website. “From there, players like Brett Hull, Paul Kariya, Duncan Keith, Travis Zajac and Kyle Turris build careers that put them amongst the best players in the world.”
All of the Bulldogs are attending high school or college classes. As McEvay notes, the proximity of the Multiplex, North Island College campus and secondary school facilitate the Port Alberni blend of hockey and learning.
Another key factor is the excellent relationship the team and McEvay have with NIC, particularly with Samantha Banton-Smith, a counsellor at the Alberni campus and a former student of McEvay’s.
“I work together with Tom to support a smooth transition for students and players because not all of them are ready for the academic world,” she explained. “It’s a good relationship … because we do see the players holistically.”
Since academics are not suited for everyone, McEvay and the Bulldogs give players options. Port Alberni educational opportunities listed by the Bulldogs include Alberni District Secondary School, NIC, VAST Education Centre (School District 70’s alternative programs) and online and distance education courses.McEvay is SD 70’s principal of alternative programs.
“We have worked out some work-experience programs. We’ve got some players doing first-aid courses (or) a truck-driving course at the college,” McEvay explained.
“That’s the perk of a college,” added Banton-Smith. “We’re meant to serve the community, which is different than a university. We have a large Continuing Ed component.” Due to his lengthy experience as a hockey player and an educator, McEvay is ideally equipped to volunteer his time to “ensure the players, the young men who come here to Port Alberni, that this time in their lives is a positive one.”
As sympathetic as McEvay might be to the players, he puts things in perspective for them.
“I just met with a few of our new players who have come in … and one of my comments is, ‘Guys, if you think you’re busy now and you tell me you want to be a full-time college hockey player and you’re carrying five courses in a full college load, then tell me you’re busy.’
“Right now in junior hockey, part of it is learning how to manage your time and set priorities. Maybe in high school you were bright enough to slide by and get decent marks, and have hockey dominate the rest of your life, when you start becoming a college player … it gets harder.”
McEvay helps players with educational and career planning, including enhancing their odds of receiving hockey scholarships. The education committee he heads has created a program to help players prepare for U.S. colleges’ SAT exams. In 2006 alone, eight Bulldogs received scholarships to attend universities or colleges in Canada or the U.S.
Recently returned from a hockey- and education-related trip to Ontario and upstate New York, McEvay remarked that other junior teams do not place anywhere near the emphasis on education that the Port Alberni team does.
“Tom takes the lead on that, and the team supports him in his vision,” commented Banton-Smith.
NIC helps by offering dozens of programs leading to a certificate, diploma or degree. The college has partnerships with the University of Victoria as well as Royal Roads, Vancouver Island, Northern B.C., Portland State and Manitoba universities.
In Part 2, some of the Bulldogs comment about the team’s commitment to their education.