High spirits and enthusiasm at the Valentine’s hockey tournament last weekend could not mask the fact that audience attendance was fairly low.
The Scarborough Hockey Association Hockey Club hosted the tournament, providing an opportune time to discuss the ambiguous state of Scarborough’s youth hockey league.
The tournament, named for the holiday it borders on, drew an excited audience. However, it was an audience that struggled to fill even half of the stands for the five division finals that Scarborough teams played in.
Though the morale in the arena was high, parents and administration indicated that they would like to see involvement from more families in the Scarborough area.
“There is a strong hockey community in Scarborough, we just need more kids,” said Manuela Robertson, a parent of three boys in the league. “We have plenty of arenas that aren’t being used to the extent they could be if more kids were playing.”
The SHA Hockey Club’s current enrolment is 960 players in house league, 240 of which play on select teams, plus 160 in competitive hockey. These numbers stand in contrast with the 13,000 youths who registered with the league in the 1967-1968 season – their best to date.
Past politics involving their departure from, and later re-affiliation with, the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) can be blamed for some losses of teams and players over the years, but it seems that Scarborough’s changing population is also playing a part.
“We have a lot of new Canadians in Scarborough, therefore [we’re] concentrating on getting new Canadians to play the game.”
— Edward Wahl
SHA Hockey Club president Edward Wahl said that Scarborough’s multiculturalism has become a point of focus for the league.
“In Scarborough, the two most important things to focus on right now are cost and the demographics,” he said. “We have a lot of new Canadians in Scarborough, therefore [we’re] concentrating on getting new Canadians to play the game.”
Robertson agreed that appealing to new Canadian families is crucial, as some may be intimidated by “the ins and outs” of hockey and its culture.
“Youth hockey in Scarborough differs more than other places in the diversity of its players,” she said. “I think Scarborough needs to really focus on promoting it to people from all different cultures because those kids will be the ones to bring hockey into the next generation.”
To increase enrolment and the weight of the league, the individual clubs within Scarborough combined their house leagues two years ago to form the Scarborough Youth Hockey League.
The SHA Hockey Club, in charge of the league, has fostered relationships with both the GTHL and the North York Hockey League to host tournaments in Scarborough.
Robertson noted that the league has done a great job catering to the Scarborough hockey community with scheduling that works for families, equal matching of skill levels, and communication via their website. However, she still stresses the need for promotion to new families, saying that if it isn’t done, “enrolment will not improve.”
Wahl does not show any concern for enrolment numbers, but remains hopeful for the growth and condition of the league.
“We do our best here,” he said. “[Hockey spirit] is still here, it’s just re-vamping itself. So yes, we are hoping that we can get it to catch on.”