More than cash investment in Toronto youth hockey

Matthew Gleeson, left, with his dad, Robert Gleeson, after a weekend game. Robert Gleeson believes playing hockey teaches son Matthew important life skills.
Matthew Gleeson, left, with his dad, Robert Gleeson, after a weekend game. Robert Gleeson believes playing hockey teaches son Matthew important life skills. (GLEESON_E)

With under a minute left, and his team down by one, 11-year-old Matthew Gleeson joins the rush. He skates for the net and sets up his teammate for the tying goal. In the dying seconds of the game, Matthew Gleeson gives a first-hand effort, using second-hand equipment.

“If the edge is sharp, that’s good enough. Why do you need to buy top of the line skates?” Robert Gleeson says.

Matthew’s father, Robert Gleeson, buys his son’s equipment from Play-It-Again Sports. The store sells used equipment at reasonable prices. Just one way the Gleesons afford the cost of their son’s hockey.

Matthew Gleeson captains the minor-peewee Toronto Aeros of the Greater Toronto Hockey League. His team plays A-level hockey. At A-level, the first level of competitive minor hockey in the GTHL, registration fees can jump significantly from non-competitive levels.

According to parent Robert Gleeson, each organization in the GTHL charges its own fees in addition to those charged by the league. He says, in total, registration fees can typically start at around $2,400 per child.

In addition, parents can expect to pay for tournament fees, hockey instruction lessons and even admission to the arena.

Robert Gleeson affords it by working two jobs.

“As far as the cost goes, it’s not really an issue,” he said.

A two-parent household where each parent earns an income, or, one parent earns two incomes and the other earns only one, can afford the cost of A-level hockey, according to Gleeson.

It appears a greater importance lies behind the efforts of parents to afford hockey for their kids. For Robert Gleeson, hockey teaches his son life skills.

“The tools and the skill ability he’s learning here in a team environment will translate in a team environment in the workforce,” Gleeson said.

Still, for other families, the cost of minor hockey keeps their kids out of the sport.

David Carr-Harris manages the KidSport Canada, Ontario chapter. This sport-neutral organization provides funding for families that have difficulty affording their children’s sport. He says that hockey, in particular, can present families with a significant financial challenge.

“Hockey has been tagged as a very expensive sport…You see more and more families that want to put their kids into hockey that are unable to,” Carr-Harris said.

Additionally, kids outgrow their equipment each year and that means parents have to buy the proper size annually. But according to Bart Gero, manager of a Play-It-Again Sports store in Toronto, many parents have an alternative to buying new.

“We have a wide variety of equipment here, like skates, to literally fit them with something used for $65 versus something brand new that is $300,” Gero said.

Aside from working more hours and buying used equipment, some parents find other ways to afford the cost of minor hockey. For instance, registration fees for non-competitive house league hockey come in lower than those at competitive hockey levels. Some leagues will even help with the cost.

For example, this season, the Don Mills Civitan Hockey League reduced registration fees for all age groups and offered discounts for early registration. For most age groups, registration cost $375 prior to June 15, $400 prior to Aug. 1, and $425 after that.

According to the league’s president, Michael Hillick, the DMCHL also has a subsidy program to help families with the cost.

“Some families just need a 50-per-cent discount. Some just need a payment plan…whatever the program is we’ll say, if that works for you, it works,” Hillick said.

The DMCHL also partners with KidSport to help families afford the cost of hockey.

At KidSport, families can receive as much as $500 per child, per year, by applying through their local KidSport chapter. Once approved by KidSport, the organization makes a payment to the hockey league where the child registers.

Carr-Harris says many families remain unaware of the funding available through KidSport.

“There are still lots of families that assume they cannot afford it…We want to make sure that they know there are resources out there,” Carr-Harris said.

Matthew Gleeson’s Toronto Aeros tied their opponents 3-3. The players marched into the dressing room with their heads held high after the effort they put together to come back from trailing. In a game like this one, the team had to find a way, by themselves, to salvage it.

Robert Gleeson wants this experience for his son Matthew to foster a sense of independence.

“To grow and mature outside of the home environment…He’s learning skills that are bringing him outside of his comfort zone,” Robert Gleeson said.