She was nervous, admittedly not athletic, and shy.
Having a hockey stick in her hand felt beyond foreign, never mind the head-to-toe hockey outfit.
Slap Shot is a Character Community program geared towards teaching newcomer elementary school students the game of hockey. But this story's focus isn’t about any of the kids, it’s about Markham Gateway Public School teacher Candice Lee.
It’s her story we are telling as we celebrate World Girls' Hockey Weekend, an event hosted by International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada.
Hockey Canada's website explains:
"This event aims to celebrate and grow the Female Game from coast to coast and unite Canadians through grassroots programming that is led by local communities, MHAs and families."
And there's a lot to celebrate.
The last time Ms. Lee put on skates she was in elementary school roughly 20 years ago. Hockey terminology was not in her vocabulary. Nevertheless, she stepped out of her comfort zone and joined the kids during lunchtime Slap Shot floorball lessons with program manager Shawn Shepheard.
“I consider myself one of the kids learning to play still. I don't see myself as a teacher helping out,” said Lee.
She could have easily sat on the bench and cheered her students on. Instead, she chose to be a leader.
“I wanted to set an example. The kids were always really positive. It made me much more comfortable.”
Fellow teacher Jared Yoshiki had nothing but praise for Lee’s efforts.
“Teachers don't know everything and we are also beginners at things. We are willing to take the risk and try. It's very motivating for a lot of the students to see her do that,” he said.
Both emphasized the message that young girls need to know that they can participate in any sport they choose.
“We need to give young girls that message that they can play sports just as well as men can. There should be more women playing professional sports,” said Lee.
Yoshiki has two daughters and said women in sport is important to him personally and professionally.
“We want to even the playing field so that males and females have equal learning opportunities. Hockey and sports aren't just for boys. There's equal opportunity for both,” remarked Yoshiki.
Here at Slap Shot, we aim to make hockey inclusive and inviting.
The entire Slap Shot community, from teachers to our staff, celebrate World Girls Hockey Weekend. Let’s follow Ms. Lee and head onto the ice!
Slap Shot Hockey is funded through The Regional Municipality of York and delivered by the Character Community Foundation of York Region.
Arnold Schwarzenegger made the line famous and we at Character Community’s Slap Shot program have something to say.
Not only are we back, but we are better than ever.
Our program has kicked off and I can tell you the kids this year are itching to learn Canada’s game.
We are heading back to our Markham and Richmond Hill schools, but we are excited to announce that we have expanded!
Students in East Gwillimbury and Georgina will now get to experience the magic of our hockey program.
Shawn Shepheard (www.shawnshepheard.com), Slap Shot program manager, says this season will have all the children’s favourites back on the ice. Hockey Canada (www.hockeycanada.ca), Ontario Minor Hockey League Association (www.omha.net) and York Region community police officers are again giving their time, spirit and skating skills to help newcomer students learn the joy of the good ol’ hockey game.
Students learn how to play at their school gym and after weeks of practice, they finally get to go on the ice. From helmets, official jerseys to skates, these new athletes get to experience every aspect of what it’s like to dress like a hockey player.
We sing the national anthem. Shots are made and the whistle blows. The feeling in the air is electric as proud parents watch and act like paparazzi.
Welcome to a new season of Slap Shot. We are back.
It's a motto when you skate on the ice for the first time.
It's a motto for life.
After weeks of learning the ins and outs of the game, the kids were now ready for the big day-to head onto the ice.
Pure joy, excitement and nervousness were written all over their faces.
I'm not going to sugar coat it for you. Kids were dropping like flies at the MasterCard Centre, practice home base for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
As a volunteer I would smile, stretch my arms out and say, "Skate to me, if you fall, it won't hurt! You're fully protected in hockey gear!" For brief moments, my words seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.
They were scared.
Regardless, each one of them took the leap and attempted to slide one skate in front of the other.
For weeks I had watched Slap Shot program manager Shawn Shepheard turn many shy, apprehensive kids into confident and quite talented floor hockey players. It was inside the school gym every lunch hour that I witnessed children blossom in their athletic skills, but more so in the belief in themselves.
A seemingly defeated player would be greeted by words of encouragement from their teammates. Members of the opposite team would congratulate the goal scorer. At every corner, great character was being built.
It's funny as adults we often fall into the habit of always playing it safe. We are less likely to try new things.
Adventure can easily take the back burner to fear and excuses.
This is the beauty of children. They can be fearless. Yes, they may be scared, but with a little encouragement, it's amazing to watch them persevere.
Try, fail, and try again.
It's a lesson embodied in this program, and one for certain I know participants will take with them in the years ahead.
Jessica Young – Guest Coach for Slap Shot
To support Slap Shot click on our Donate button to view the Holiday Giving Jersey and Stick program.
Sometimes we know the correct answers, or words, but maybe we don't always put them into action. Knowing and doing are two very different things.
The character attributes are no different.
Compassion, initiative, perseverance, optimism, courage, respect and responsibility are demonstrated each and every time we do a Slapshot ON ICE day.
At the end of a very tiring ON ICE day with the Slapshot program yesterday, I returned home and thought about how amazing the members of our community are at bringing these attributes to life.
Simply put the program could not happen without this amazing group of 15-20 volunteers at each of our sessions.
Here are just a few examples I saw yesterday as 57 Slapshot players from Markham and Richmond Hill took to the ice for the first time.
I get a phone call the day before from Kevin from Ontario Minor Hockey Association, saying that he and his friends at OMHA will drop by our storage facility and help me load the 40 bags of equipment on the bus at 8am in the morning. And they do, and then several also come to the rink and help out.
Tom our bus driver, always goes beyond the call of duty and helps us load, unload the equipment, sort and tidy it up in the dressing rooms and anything else we need help with at the rink. Because he wants too.
The York Regional Police officers, who come out to meet the kids during a session at the school, play floor hockey with them and make the kids smile. Then they return for the ON ICE day, and the kids greet them as friends, because they are now.
To the amazing group of Character Council and Neighbourhood Network volunteers that take time away from their busy schedules and come out to help out in the dressing room and also on the ice.
I am so grateful.
The common thread is that they do all of this, because they want to.
The spirit and heart shown by everyone is beyond inspiring and reflects the true spirit of what it means to be a Character Community.
Thank you for all you do, I am proud to be part of this amazing team.
Shawn Shepheard our program manger has begun this year's sessions at Markham Gateway PS in Markham and at Richmond Rose PS in Richmond Hill.
He is midway through the floor hockey sessions and our first ON ICE day is coming up the first week of March.
He shared this refelection yesterday and it speaks to exactly why this is such a rewarding and inspiring program for us to share with over 250 students this year in York Region.
Funded in part by the Regional Municipality of York we are honoured to be able to share the "good ole Hockey game" with new Canadians and those who would not have the opportunity to learn the game we all love.
I had an interesting conversation with one of the new Peer Mentors of the current group of Slapshot students in Markham.
The grade 7 student has returned to the program she loved, this time as a leader helping the new Slapshot students.
I asked her on the second day if she still plays hockey, and she answered:
"I do, but my friends don't because they think hockey is for boys"
Then the Olympics started.
Two weeks later that same student leader ran into the gym and said:
"Mr. Shepheard did you watch Team Canada women's team play? They are so good and fast! And guess what? My friends also watched the game and now want to play hockey. It's not just for boys you know."
I could not wipe the smile off my face.
This is one of the many lessons that the children have learned from taking part in Slapshot, seeing character being put into action and watching the Olympics.