Fourteen years ago, the Abbotsford School District initiated a Hockey Canada Skills Academy based out of Yale Secondary. The focus was squarely on skill development, with 30 students between Gr 8-12 enrolled. Years following, the program expanded to offer Skill Development programs to over 120 student-athletes. The growth of skills academies, which was congruent with Hockey Canada’s mission to see a re-marriage of the education system with the hockey system, ultimately led to the creation of a Sport School League to involve competitive game-play. In 2013 Billy Wilms successfully campaigned to see the Yale Hockey Academy (YHA) accepted by the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL) into its inaugural Elite 15 division.
In 2014, upon the success of the Elite 15 team winning the inaugural CSSHL Elite 15 Championship, a U18 Midget Prep Team was added to the Academy. 2014 was a pivotal year as this team won virtually every tournament it entered including the largest Midget Tournament in the world, The Bauer Invitational, held in Chicago. The success of these teams resonated worldwide as interest in the Academy was expressed from students in Australia, Spain, Israel, Czech Republic, and Japan.
As with anything in life, relationships are the primary medium for success and we are fortunate to have, arguably, the best collection of hockey talent in the province coaching our young men or as we like to say, “training life champions. Their success as coaches and impact as positive male role models is reflected in the achievements of our alumni:
- 4 first-round NHL draft-picks in 4 consecutive years (Dennis Cholowski, Noah Juulsen, Shea Theodore and Jake Virtanen);
- 12 student-athletes receive full ride NCAA Division 1 Scholarships;
- 33 student-athletes receiving Canadian Scholarships through the WHL scholarship program;
- 2 YHA graduates graduating from Medical Schools (Craig Stewart & Aven Sidhu).
- 3 Members of the recent U18 Canadian Team who won Gold at the World Championship (Dylan Cozens, Bowen Bryam, Josh Williams)
As the Yale Hockey Academy has grown in reputation, so too have the demands on it in terms of physical space and creative educational programming. Over the past year, we’ve been meeting and working with the new owners at Summit Centre (formally Center Ice). In partnership, we have redesigned and re-branded the facility as a Centre for Excellence with the Yale Hockey Academy serving as the principal occupant. The Summit Centre offers an all in one facility which includes ice time, private weight room, locker room in Yale colors, three designated classrooms, a meeting room and coaches’ offices.
Our District is committed to offering all students a world-class, innovative, and individualized educational experience. In that spirit, academy coordinator Billy Wilms and staff from Yale Secondary are collaborating and delivering a personalized, blended approach to learning that honours the spirit of the new BC Curriculum and supports our Secondary Schools Operational Plan. Students are “podded” for all courses and three teachers facilitate an interdisciplinary, digitally enhanced, inquiry-based curriculum. One example of this collaborative creativity is “The Franchise Project” that is being introduced this semester. Students will have the opportunity to apply concepts learned in Math, Science, Socials, English, French, and Arts & Design to the real-world scenario of creating a junior hockey franchise in a community in Canada that does not presently possess one. Ron McLean, if you’re reading this we’d like you to come and serve as a judge at our students’ demonstrations of learning!
As we keep one eye on the present and one eye on the future, the plan is to coordinate with our District Careers Programs and Curriculum Department to introduce courses specific to the interests and needs of our students: “Careers in Sports” and “Sports Medicine” courses; the completion of NCCP Level 1 coaching; referee carding; first aid certification. In all of this, the goal (to borrow from my boss) is to create stuff they are passionate about, especially if it has value and will make the world a better place.
There is no question that the on-ice experience at the Yale Hockey Academy is one of the finest in North America. What I am equally proud of, however, is that in providing wrap-around care and an educational experience that blends seamlessly with the athletic, our student-athletes are being nurtured in an environment that will foster curiosity, creativity, and multi-disciplinary thinking. They in turn will demonstrate empathy, grit, character, and a growth-mindset that transcends the rink, extends to the classrooms and ultimately informs their personal life choices. This is what we mean when we say that we are “Training Life Champions.”