By Randy Uens
Through this pandemic the Quinte area has seen growth and productivity that should make Quinte residents proud. Through the terrible tragedy and loss, the Quinte area has emerged far better off than other parts of Canada and the world. It hasn’t been great, and we have all suffered, but there are places worse off than us.
The Belleville area has grown to be the 4th fastest growing municipality in the country through this pandemic. This surge has pushed housing prices to levels few of us would have expected. This growth in our communities is not going to decrease. Prince Edward county continues to grow significantly and the ongoing growth of CFB Trenton and the City of Quinte West has made it almost discernible where Belleville starts and Quinte West ends along Highway 2.
With all of this information it is clear we need to start rethinking how we deal with sports regionally. My experiences are limited to hockey and soccer as it relates to my own kids but I am convinced that these experiences relate to other sports as well. I am through the other side and really do not have an agenda for my opinions. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly in minor sports and it is time to make some changes.
Let’s use hockey as our first example; The highest level of minor hockey is AAA. The Quinte Red Devils (QRD) organization operates AAA in a very large geographic area consisting of Cobourg to the west, Napanee to the east, Prince Edward County to the South and as far north as Bancroft.
The QRD organization has developed into a juggernaut producing quality players and teams almost every year. I have seen very qualified hockey people come and go from the organization over the years all leaving it in a better position than when they arrived. The organization is strong, progressive and vibrant. Yes it has its issues, but in general, it is very successful and competitive.
Belleville Minor Hockey operates at the AA level. It also operates AE (select) level at most age groups as well as house league. In general Belleville is hit and miss as it goes with team success. There have been individual age groups that have had terrific runs, but in general Belleville has not succeeded provincially for quite some time. Quinte West (QW) operates similarly as Belleville but at the A level. Alternatively, the QW organization has had quite a bit of success at the A level. Provincial championships have been won and most of the teams are competitive.
Rural areas such as Center Hastings, Prince Edward County, Napanee, Brighton etc., have all had varying degrees of success. Programs have age groups with large house league numbers and others with low numbers. Each of these groups fiercely hold on to their independence and blockade icetimes to maintain their control of their local rinks.
Often you will walk into a rink in any one of these centres and you will see the ice sitting vacant. Not always, but quite often it is unused but is still spoken for by one of the minor hockey groups. Often schedules are determined after ice allocation is made. Organizations refuse to give up the ice allocations and often would rather try to sublet or absorb the cost of the ice in order to prevent the chance of losing the ice the following year.
The other significant problem is the lack of development from the feeder associations to QRD. This is a complicated issue and I cannot fully tackle it here, but a number of good hockey people are talking about this issue now. If your kid is not into the QRD stream early it is becoming very difficult to make that jump.
The level of play at A or lower does not push the QW and surrounding area kids enough and the lack of depth and competition for Belleville kids at the AA level is hindering development of some of the kids that may have the potential to make the jump to AAA. Subsequent outcomes of these shortcomings are fractured development streams, inconsistent coaching and development models, lack of practice times for lower levels and dwindling house league numbers (which have a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is cost) .
The fix is easy but people have to check their egos at the door and do what’s right.
A regional umbrella needs to be created for all youth hockey. What makes the most sense is to create a “AA” team that consists of kids from Belleville, QW, Center Hastings, PEC, Napanee etc. Below that could be a rep loop that still operates in each of the local centres at a B or BB level and amalgamate house leagues where it makes sense. At some point you could add an A level if it warrants it.
This allows for kids at all levels to play at appropriate levels. Coaching and development could be monitored more closely and development of young coaches could be fostered as you can clearly see the progression is available for growth.
With each community working closely together, house league numbers and opportunities could be enhanced with better collaboration. Ice allocation would be more collaborative with all ice users therefore creating a central ice management system that would allow for ice to be better utilized and more access given to ice for the lower level players to improve their development.
These issues are not isolated to hockey. Soccer has similar issues as well as basketball. Soccer especially would benefit from a regional association approach as many of our top players leave for the Kingston or Durham area to find higher levels of competition.
Rethinking the organizational structure and development framework is not easy. It will take a number of smart people to look at what is best for the kids and the sport as a whole setting aside your own personal agendas. That’s a tall order for youth sports. In the past, suggestions like this have been squashed by paid administrators of these sports at various levels. It’s up to the volunteers and parents with vested interests to push these agendas forward.
As stated, there is a group of smart hockey people getting behind this concept and I can only hope that people listen. I know that I can speak for the Wellington Dukes and the Trenton Golden Hawks. The more local players that we can develop that can play at our level the better it is for us. Improve the development opportunities to increase the opportunities for all the athletes. Too many great athletes are slipping through the cracks of an inefficient system .
As our community continues to grow and the gaps between our rural areas decrease, it only makes sense to allow for our sports associations to evolve and become more efficient in order to foster development of our athletes.
Sincere condolences to the family of long time Quinte Secondary teacher and coach Rick Locke. He was a great sports contributor in our area and will be fondly remembered and missed by the extended sports community.
Congratulations to Stone Mille resident and former QRD player Maddie Wheeler who won the women’s NCAA hockey National Championship with the Wisconsin Badgers.