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Batavia to establish a 'United' modified hockey program

By Joanne Beck


Marc Staley and John Kirkwood, representing Notre Dame and Batavia high schools, respectively, made a pitch — or more accurately, a shot attempt — Monday to the city school board to establish a modified hockey team.

After noticing the number of younger students not qualified for Varsity or Junior Varsity teams, the coaches agreed that there would be enough students for a modified program, they said.

"And we can incorporate these kids already into our summer lifting program into the platform app, and also in our GroupMe app, in which we communicate with them … just to really let the kids know like, even though they're not necessarily in the program right now, that we're aware of them, we want to help start developing them,” Staley said. “And we've seen just tremendous participation from seventh and eighth graders all summer long. Now, I know they're a little younger, they don't have summer jobs and stuff like that, like some of the older kids do. But the numbers really would support a modified program.”

They had originally tallied 16 players and then found two more, a goaltender and a girl hockey player, which lends well to prep for the fastest growing collegiate sport in the country, he said, of women’s hockey.

A fee of $1,800 to cover games and referees would amount to about $100 per athlete, Staley said, not including transportation. A modified program would not compete with youth hockey, though it does “bump up against spring season,” he said.

“We don’t think it’s going to cause much of a problem with schedules,” he said.

Modified teams have one color, and this one would likely be either royal blue or white. The cost of those would be covered by the hockey boosters, he said.

There are 14 modified teams that play in Buffalo, and none in Rochester, he said. There would need to be some practices before they go and play, he said, so “there would be some expense there … less than $1,000.”

Notre Dame would share the cost, and “everything is broken down by kid,” Staley said. Eighth-graders are eligible to try out for junior varsity, however, they must pass a fitness test to do so, Kirkwood said.

“And we don't want to get in a situation where we have an eighth grader who either doesn't pass the test or may not be ready physically for the physicality of a JV team. So to have this option softens the level of effort kids who may not make the JV as an eighth grader but may be a great player,” he said. “So we're trying to mirror some of the most successful programs that are here and saying is this something that we can offer? The only other additional expense would be, maybe before these kids are all going to be in shape, they're going to just play a full hockey season. And they're going to be I think excited to come together for like a little mini-season.”

There are no more league fees, Staley said, which saves thousands of dollars, and “we run a gate now,” which should total $10,000 of admission coming into the program. They have fundraisers for those “soft goods” of gloves, shells and similar needed accessories, and have emphasized the idea of community service, Staley said. Of the 41 kids in Varsity and Junior Varsity, 28 worked at least three hours each at the annual Crossroads garage sale, loading and unloading merchandise.

“I’m a firm believer that, (and tells the kids) if you want the community to come to your games, you better get out there,” he said.

This past year students put in a collective 400 hours of service, “and counting,” he said. He and Kirkwood, a city school district teacher, have challenged the kids to reach 1,000 hours next year. It goes hand-in-hand with playing sports, which would be enhanced by a modified team, he said.

“We think this will be a great step in the right direction, and really give these young kids something to get excited about,” he said.

In his written proposal to the board, Staley offered to be coach of the "United Mod Squad" program without any compensation, as he feels it is part of his role as head coach of the United hockey program. Modified games would be played at Harbor Centre in Buffalo, and go from March 6 through April 23, 2023.

The puck apparently slid into the net. Board members John Marucci, Alice Benedict, Jean Lendvay, Barbara Bowman, Chezeray Rolle, John Reigle, and Korinne Anderson unanimously approved the request.

Photo: John Kirkwood, left, and Marc Staley present their plan to establish a modified hockey program for Batavia City Schools and Notre Dame High School. Photo by Joanne Beck.

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