Elementary and middle schoolers in a Culture Club Hockey program gathered this week to celebrate the skills they've learned the last five months - as well as celebrate a program that has provided them with access to a sport they may not have otherwise been exposed to.
"It's got a lot of kids out here who haven't really had a chance to try hockey yet," coach and organizer Thomas Fletcher said. "It's kind of an intimidating sport to just go and try."
Yet this year was one of the most successful to date, with about 18 Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School players and, for the first time, 18 Gastineau Elementary and Harborview Elementary kids enrolled.
"Being at a bunch of different rinks, I think this is one of the better programs I've seen," Treadwell Arena rink manager Greg Smith said. "You just see from the kids who come every year that it has an effect. You can see they really appreciate it. Not too many places have an opportunity like that."
Fletcher, a Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School soccer coach who was brought in this year by former Culture Club Hockey coach Dave McKenna, said the addition of elementary kids has worked well.
"We've had actually more kids at the elementary schools, and they seem like they're less afraid to try new things," he said. "They've gotten good really quickly, so I think it's gone really well."
Fletcher hopes the program might even expand next year to other groups, such as Girl Scouts troops or the Charter School.
"Because we have a full set of gear, and we have coaches," he said.
The program also is at no cost to parents.
"That's what made it so wonderful," parent Carrie Guthrie said, "because it gave them the opportunity to experience hockey for the first time and see if that interest grows - without having to pay a fortune for it."
Guthrie called the program was an "awesome" opportunity for her Harborview second-grader, Katie Guthrie, to not only play hockey, but also to ice skate.
"I really ... appreciate everything the coaches have done to support our kids and support our community for our little ones," she said.
David Paul George Sr. said he's proud his daughter, Cecelia George, a fifth-grader at Gastineau, could participate.
"She really enjoyed herself," he said. "It's nice to see little things like this for the younger kids. It's just neat to see them participate in this type of activity."
Each team spent about an hour a week, for 10 weeks, on the ice learning hockey and skating basics from the schools' physical education teachers, some paraeducators and Parks and Recreation coaches.
Harborview third-grader ZoAnne Cooper said she learned a lot from being on the team.
"If we fall and slide, sometimes we drop on our tummies and it's hard to get back up sometimes," she said, "but it's fun to play hockey."
Cooper's mother, Ami, said the club provided a challenge for her daughter.
"She knew how to ice skate, but she's never done hockey," Ami Cooper said. "I think it just offered her a chance to try something she ... maybe wouldn't have otherwise."
Program founder Annie Calkins, who has been volunteering and fundraising for the program the past seven years, said the club started just before the rink opened and was only offered to Dzantik'i students.
But it has since become an important way to give the students, both boys and girls, an opportunity they wouldn't have otherwise, Calkins said.
"It's created some dreams for some kids who didn't know they could skate, much less play hockey," she said.
"The rink and Parks and Rec supported the whole concept that has grown into something that the kids and their families, many who have never been to this rink before, really appreciate - another place in Juneau that's a healthy place for children and families."
Princess Tours and Royal Caribbean has helped with busing, and Sealaska Heritage Institute and Tlingit & Haida have helped with buses, tours, chaperones and funding, as well as the Tlingit signage at the Treadwell Arena.
Contact Neighbors editor KimAndree at email@example.com.