METHUEN YOUTH HOCKEY PROGRAM VOLUNTEERS TEACH KIDS GAME OF LIFE

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METHUEN — The Methuen Youth Hockey Association doesn’t just teach youngsters from Methuen and Lawrence how to play the sport.

It also teaches them how to be responsible individuals.

“We want to teach the kids it’s not just about hockey; it’s about life,” said coach and parent Tony O’Rourke. “The most important thing is we are trying to make them better kids and better adults.”

MYHA appreciates how much it costs parents to enroll their kids in the program, and that’s why the league’s sights are set higher than what occurs on the ice.

“Hockey teaches good lessons and it’s a good workout,” O’Rourke said. “And it keeps them from basically getting into trouble.”

Coaching coordinator Joe Kaczynski said the program allows the coaches the opportunity to talk to the kids about things other than hockey.

“We ask them if they did their homework and how they did on their tests,” Kaczynski said. “We have kids that know when they come here they have adults to support them and supervise them.”

Board Secretary Mike Foreman said the most important thing for the 300 youngsters enrolled in the program is to “have fun and learn to play. If you don’t want to have fun, you might as well go yodel,” Foreman said.

The coaches try to impress on parents and players alike the importance of displaying sportsmanlike conduct on and off the ice.

“All of the kids, parents and coaches have to sign a code of conduct at the beginning of the season,” MYHA president Matt Halaby said. “If a kid gets out of line, we try to deal with it in-house first, and then we go to Massachusetts Youth Hockey. We’re not afraid to suspend kids for their actions though.”

O’Rourke added the league has full support from the city, which is extremely important.

“Methuen is a town that really cares about youth sports,” O’Rourke said. “You want to meet an exceptional man — meet Bill Pare from the city’s (Recreation) department. Bill runs the best programs and he will not tolerate any discipline problems. The mayor is also committed to youth sports; that’s extremely important.”

Halaby said MYHA is unique from similar organizations because the coaches are parents and volunteers — not paid positions like some of the other leagues throughout the state.

Despite the $1,300 expense, parents need to understand their son or daughter may not become the next Wayne Gretzky.

“The older they get, the more realistic you have to be as a parent,” said MYHA treasurer Alice Armstrong. “It has to stay fun for the kids; if not, it’s just not worth it — for them or their parents.”

Hockey is a sport where only the elite athlete can actually contemplate making it a career.

“The NHL is an international sport now, not just American and Canadian,” O’Rourke said. “There are players coming from Russia, Slovakia, Czechoslovakia and Sweden — all over.

“There may be more leagues to play in, but only 2 percent of North American hockey players make it to Division I schools, never mind having a professional career.”

For more information about MYHA, visit www.myha.com.