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Kids Learn Vital Life Skills by Playing Ice Hockey: Enroll Now

HockeyPhotoIn the depths of the pandemic, when schools were closed, extracurricular activities cancelled and most sports programs were on hold, one independent sports organization managed to keep going and provided a vital outlet for sidelined kids.

While their parents worked with the Governor’s office, the Westchester County Health Department and other hockey associations to adapt to regulations as they evolved, kids in the Scarsdale Youth Hockey Association stayed on the ice.

The organization’s response to the pandemic reflects the enthusiasm and determination that their volunteer board, coaches and team members have exhibited for years. Passion for ice hockey comes through in every conversation with board members and parents who are devoted to the sport and Scarsdale Youth Hockey, now in its 25th season. Evaluations and tryouts for their upcoming season will be held during the first two weeks of May and you can register your kids here.

Mehan Kathirithamby, the organization’s president explained that 148 kids participated last season, starting with six and eight year-olds who learn skating and stick handling, to kids on the 12U, 14U, 16U and 18U teams who practice and play competitively. The season goes from September to March, and the program has ice time at EJ Murray’s and the Westchester Skating Academy.

The program is run by nine parent board members with help from 40 parent volunteers. Some of the coaching is done by parents who played in high school, college and even pre-professional teams. 52% of the kids are from Scarsdale and the remaining 48% are from all over, including Connecticut and Manhattan.

About the philosophy of the program Kathirithamby said, “The Scarsdale program is a friendly community-based program. It’s a collegial, friendly environment where kids can learn to play hockey and have fun with their friends. We teach teamwork, sportsmanship, responsibility, how to put on your own skates, carry your own equipment and be responsible for it.”

Is hockey rough or dangerous? Kathirithamby explained, “Any sport has the potential for injury, but we do a lot to keep it safe.” He said, “There are always several coaches on the ice during the games to keep it safe. At every level the kids learn how to protect themselves, how to fall and get back up and how to approach the boards without getting hurt. Kids are wearing a lot of pads and they are taught how to protect themselves and their opponents.”

Rachel Rilander who grew up playing hockey and coached this season said, “My son was 5, my daughter was 6 when they began. Kindergarten is the earliest kids can begin the program, but any age is a great age to start. They should be emotionally ready, able to separate from parents and listen to instructions, etc. They pick it up so quickly.”

She continued, “My kids had taken skating lessons before starting the program and knew the basics, but that is certainly not necessary. They are on the ice twice a week or more. This program is meant to teach them all the basics. Kids who have never skated before are grouped together and the coaches focus more on skating technique.”

Rilander said, “My son has become more independent. When he first started he had a hard time separating from me, and he had a hard time making it through the full session on the ice. At the time it was good for him to build up his confidence and learn to deal with the separation. It’s also great exercise and a safe and fun way for kids to burn energy. For my daughter, the program was something different than what she was used to, as it was more physical and she was playing mostly with boys. It was good for her to learn how to stand up for herself.”

We asked her if girls can play too and she said, “Absolutely. The program is co-ed. This year we had two female coaches, and seven girl players. At this age the girls are developmentally the same as the boys so it works.rachelhockey

Does Rilander think it is safe? What would she say to parents who are reluctant to sign up their children due to safety concerns?

She said, “It is very safe. The kids are wearing equipment head to toe. At the younger ages they are not allowed checking. Even at this young age we teach them body positioning and how to play safe and keep from getting hurt, and to focus more of the skating and hockey skills (vs. the physical). I played for years, never once got hurt. The equipment does wonders!”

How much do they play? She explained, “The kids who are in the Learn to Skate/ Learn to Play programs have two practices a week. Scarsdale gets great ice times. These kids practice Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons for the most-part. The kids who are travel level have an additional practice and game each week typically. For non-travel there are three sessions so you don’t need to commit to the entire season. This is a great option for someone trying it out for the first time.”

Jodi Barrow added, “Scarsdale Hockey has been the most amazing experience for Blake.(her six year-old son.) He had always asked to play hockey, and since nobody else in our family has ever played hockey, I wasn't sure where to even begin. Scarsdale Hockey offers a comfortable environment where Blake was able to learn alongside his peers. Practices are filled with instruction, but also with fun games and activities that make it a lot of fun for the kids. Blake grew to truly love the sport, and became more and more confident as the weeks progressed. Toward the end of the season, consistent with instructions based on COVID guidelines, the kids began competing in games. Blake loved being part of a team, and developed close friendships with his teammates. Scarsdale Hockey offers a great community, for both players and their families. Blake's hockey practices and games were by far his favorite days of every week.”

About COVID she said, “The COVID crisis certainly presented many challenges, but the dedication of the parents who organize the program made it possible to still give the children an incredible season. Players wore masks, and often plastic shields as well over the front of their helmets to give extra protection. Parents were also required to complete paperwork before their child attended practices or games. The number of spectators at the games were limited, and traffic was controlled into and out of the rinks to limit interactions with other groups. Although games were delayed due to COVID, the players truly enjoyed the opportunity to compete once it was possible.”

Stacey Strauss said, “I have two children that play hockey. Jacob is 10 and Matthew is 7. Jacob has been a part of the program since he was 5 and Matthew joined at 6. The program is great for so many reasons. I personally love that Scarsdale Youth Hockey takes all levels of skaters. The program dedicates coaches to the newest skaters to help them in the “Learn to Skate” program.”

Elizabeth DeRobertis said, “My son Nicky started playing Scarsdale Hockey when he was in second grade. Now he is in tenth grade and still plays for SYHA and also has been coaching the 8U team. Some of his friends started to play when they were in Kindergarten or even before. When he started in second grade he felt like he was late to the game. But what we have seen over the years is that kids can start at different ages, and as long as they are dedicated to the game, they catch up.”

“Nicky was able to skate when he started to play, but the organization did an amazing job really teaching him how to scale well and excel quickly with his skating ability. A child does not even need to know how to skate to start playing for SYHA. The Learn to Skate program teaches them basic skating skills, and then they progress to learning to play hockey. The coaches are amazing and the kids feel really comfortable on the ice. One thing I want to point out is the incredible coaching through SYHA. SYHA has extremely dedicated parent coaches combined with paid coaches at the older levels (including Nates Clinics weekly). Each year Nicky's coach has had a profound influence on his development both on and off the ice.”

She continued, “I can't imagine life without SYHA. Outside of school, SYHA has been the biggest presence in our lives in terms of the hours Nicky spends at the rink and with his team, and the friendships that we have made over the years. Hockey is a big commitment and with it comes and even bigger benefit. From traveling to tournaments and spending weekends away with the team, to growing up with your teammates from elementary school through high school, hockey has taught Nicky so much about responsibility, teamwork and commitment.

About COVID she said, “I am actually the COVID coordinator for SYHA. We started by doing a lot of research to see what guidelines were published by each of the heath organizations and updated them throughout the year. We had to coordinate with the rink guidelines and also work with the local Department of Health. We needed to implement a waiver system, which was challenging initially. But overall, we are proud that our players were able to have a full hockey season, even though it looked different from past seasons, but they were able to be on the ice and spend time with teammates, exercising and developing skills. Most were even able to get in some games and tournaments.

Jon Waldman, father of two skaters had this to say: “Playing hockey has helped my kids both physically and mentally. From a physical standpoint, they benefit from improved balance, agility, strength, and overall athleticism. From a mental standpoint, they have improved self-confidence, coping skills (learning how to deal with losing games and even winning them), leadership skills, and have learned how to be good teammates. Most importantly they’ve made lots of friends and have fun playing!”

“There are also benefits for parents too! Scarsdale Youth Hockey is a great community and a great way to meet awesome new people in the area. My wife and I have lived in Scarsdale for nearly 6 years and many of our closest friends in the area are people we've met through the program. “

“This quote from Wayne Gretzky sums it up pretty well: "The greatest thing about hockey is the people you meet, the friendships, the memories, there's nothing like it. It's the greatest game in the world." “

How can you get your children involved? Scarsdale Youth Hockey will hold tryouts and evaluations during the first two weeks of May, and this year they are free. You must register in advance and sign a waiver before your children can try out. Six to eight year-olds can sign up for the Learn to Play Program and those nine and up can be evaluated to play on team. Learn more and sign up here:

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