A record setting number of young women will take to the ice every Friday from now until spring break through the Hockey HEROS program, which is in its fourth year on the Coast.
The program at the Gibsons and Area Community Centre has 29 elementary school students signed up, and almost half of them are girls.
"It's just phenomenal," said Norm Flynn, Hockey HEROS founder and executive director, when he was in Gibsons to open the program Oct. 5. "It's probably the highest female to male ratio we have in any of our programs across Canada."
Hockey HEROS (Hockey Education Reaching Out Society) is all about empowering children through ice hockey, and programs are run in most major cities across Canada. The program takes at-risk youth and teaches them the basics of hockey as well as the four key HERO behaviours.
"Those are listening, respect, discipline and having fun. I always say you've got to have fun. If you're not having fun then you may as well find something else you can have fun at. If you're not having fun, you're not going to excel," Flynn said.
Kelly Boutilier, Sunshine Coast program director for Hockey HEROS, said the program is open to students of any ability who are referred by their school.
"Some of the kids have never had the opportunity to play hockey before for various reasons. Hockey HEROS provides the opportunity to at least get a taste of it," Boutilier said.
One child who was new to the sport at the launch on Oct. 5 was 10-year-old Simon Fenn.
He was worried about the new experience but said, "I'm willing to give it a try."
His mother, Christine Fenn, was hopeful the experience would bring him out of his shell.
"I hope it will build his self-esteem," she said. "He seems excited and that makes me smile."
Eleven-year-old Kate Nelson is in the program for a second time this year. She was a newbie last year who was unfamiliar with hockey, but now she loves the game.
"It's really fun to get out there and learn new stuff," she said. "You also get to meet new people and make new friends."
While Flynn was on hand to open the program recently, he's not the coach for the local group.
Coach Dan Kasperski will be there every week to train the students in all aspects of hockey and the key HERO behaviours.
"I have trained all over the world and I've played at pro levels for the better part of 20 years," said the former Team Canada hockey player.
He's excited about this year's group of students and said he looks forward to coaching them to become better players and more confident, capable kids.
To find out more about the program, go to www.heroshockey.com.
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