Why Won’t St. Louis High School Hockey Change With the Times?

My son Joey, his teammates Will, Andy and Brandon played varsity ice hockey for Parkway Central High School last year in Chesterfield, Missouri. The team finished 17-4, but was upset by Pattonville in the first round of the season-ending tournament. As we begin planning for next year’s season, they are the only remaining players from last year’s roster of 16 players. Eight seniors graduated, one junior is focusing on his AAA team, one junior is focusing on academics, one player’s knee problems have ended his hockey career, and a final player is from out-of-district and hasn’t committed. There is but one incoming freshman outskater interested in playing.

If they want to continue playing high school hockey, Joey and his teammates will almost certainly be forced to separate and play for different schools in the St. Louis area — unless the Mid-States Club Hockey Association, the governing body for high school hockey in St. Louis, finally recognizes the problem and makes some changes. These changes are easily implemented and will not upset the competitive balance within the league.

Sadly, this situation is but one example of declining participation in high school hockey in the St. Louis metropolitan area. This is, even more sadly, not just a St. Louis phenomenon, but something happening in many parts of the country. When I read articles like this one from Minnesota Public Radio about declining participation Minneapolis High School Hockey, an area known for hockey fervor, it’s clear the problem is widespread. The decline in youth hockey is due to factors including more club hockey teams for the top players, cost, travel and practice/game times, but also due to the rise in popularity of soccer and off-season baseball (fallball), not to mention the myriad of other activities available to high school students.

In the St. Louis metro area, schools that once had enough players to fill three rosters just a few years ago, now struggle to field a varsity team, with the notion of a junior varsity long since forgotten. Without rules changes, I estimate that 5 to 7 of the 36 schools that fielded teams for the 2009-2010 season may not return, and more will fold the following year. This will likely mean that some kids, perhaps my son, will decide not to continue playing a sport that they love and have been playing since mini-mites.

The solution lies with the Mid-States Club Hockey Association rules, but the individuals with the power to change the rules won’t budge. I don’t really understand why they won’t budget.

The changes necessary lie in roster size changes or in allowing team mergers.

Today, Mid-States requires a minimum of 12 rostered players to create a team, not including goalies. Once that roster is filed with Mid-States, the school may increase the roster to 16 players, either through a draft of players cut from their high school team or through free-agents, players whose schools do not have a team. It’s not clear how many players were added through either mechanism last year, but I know that demand far outstripped supply.

The rules create some situations where seemingly easy solutions to allow kids to play together can’t be implemented. For example, two schools might have 8 players each. Neither can form a team, because they can’t get to 12, although combined, they’d be 16. Or, one school might have 12 and a school like Parkway Central has 5. Our five can’t be added to the 12, because it exceeds 16. (I could go on indefinitely about the logic of combining teams that have 15 each to allow for a varsity and junior varsity, but I won’t.)

The Mid-States leaders have steadfastly refused to address this situation through lowering minimum roster sizes, increasing maximum roster sizes, or allowing schools to merge teams. Somehow merged teams work in Minneapolis (see the article noted above), but they can’t work in St. Louis.

We asked Mid-States within their rules change process to decrease minimum roster size to 9 and increase maximum roster size to 20. This was rejected, although we got no feedback and, therefore don’t know why. Candidly, if they were to implement these changes, we believe most kids that want to play with their schoolmates will be able to.

Mid-States’ fear, we believe, is upsetting the competitive balance of the league. I’d be happy to set up practice games between some of the top teams and teams created from schools with less than the minimum number of players to allay their fears. It won’t be a problem.

We are reaching out to other teams in St. Louis to get their support. We are writing the Board Members directly. However, I am now posting here and have broadcast on Facebook and through Twitter, as a way to push Mid-States to act.

I am asking for readers’ help. If the Mid-States Board will not respond to us, perhaps they will respond to other parents who understand this situation.

If you are sympathetic to our cause, drop a note to Jeff Hayes, the President of Mid-States (jeffhayes@midstateshockey.org), or John Nichols, the Vice President of Mid-States (discipline@midstateshockey.org) to let them know how you feel. If you are very ambitious, let me know, and I’ll send you the email addresses of the whole Mid-States roster.

St. Louis High School Hockey needs to change with the times.

I want Mid-States to live up to its by-laws which list as one of its purposes: “To develop, encourage and regulate the game of ice hockey as a High School sport, in the State of Missouri for the benefit of, and exclusely for, students and their respective schools, and so the sport is made available to more students at the lowest possible cost.”

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The Life With Spidey Posting Schedule

As I wrote on June 8, I’ve taken the plunge with a commitment to post to Life With Spidey on a daily basis. So far, so good, six days later.

To make it easier on my readers (whoever you are) and, frankly, easier on myself, each day of the week will be dedicated going forward to a specific topic, with Saturdays reserved for something random.

The Life With Spidey Posting Schedule

Sunday:                Sports — starting with tonight’s post about the vuvuzela

Monday:              Diet and Exercise — see tomorrow’s post for more information

Tuesday:              Family — 2 kids, a dog and 18 years of marriage = blog topics

Wednesday:       Travel – an interest of mine, as I’ve done quite a bit for work and fun

Thursday:           The Blogsphere – comments on things I’ve found of interest elsewhere

Friday:                 Work – when you work for a Fortune 100 company, you have a lot to write

Saturday:            Potpourri (as Alex Trebek might say)

I’ll use categories going forward to track things.  Should be fun.  Suggestions are welcome.

Jury Duty Wrap – The Lighter Side

With apologies to David Letterman (Top Ten), Peter King from Sports Illustrated (Things I Think I Think) and Seth Meyers & Amy Poehler from SNL (Really?!), I present my Top Ten Things I Really Think I Think after serving jury duty this week.

#10.    There is nothing on earth more boring than hearing a deposition read back to you in a courtroom. I’m disappointed that the male intern who read a woman’s deposition didn’t move his voice to a higher pitch.

#9.     10 cops to guard one x-ray machine and one metal detector at the courtroom entrance is overkill and a waste of my tax dollars.

#8.     I must live in a bubble. A number of jurors and the bailiff had never seen a Kindle before. Question from the bailiff – “Does that thing send emails?”

#7.     An entire sitcom could be based on activity in the jury room. True quotes:

Max Baer, Jr. -- Not Dead

  • “You know what that reminded me of? My Cousin Vinny.” Response from a few others – “I was going to say the same thing.”
  • “I’m telling you. Max Baer, Jr. is dead.”
  • “Did you see her panties?”
  • “You were sleeping.” “Was not.” “Were too.” “Was not. “Were too.”
  • “What do you think of the plaintiff attorney’s hair?”
  • “We have absolutely no idea what your name is.”
  • [looking at iPod nano] – “I want a phone like his that takes pictures.”

#6.     A Chipotle burrito during lunch before a long afternoon session in court is an exceptionally poor decision.

#5.     Jury chairs that lean back to about 135 degrees are dangerous as the 2pm lunch coma combines with a boring witness.

#4.     It’s comforting to know that the judge sometimes often falls asleep as well.

#3.     I’m not calling the plaintiff’s attorneys to represent me anytime soon. One plaintiff attorney’s real question: “So, was there a time when you saw something that caused you some concern?” Huh?

#2.     Seeing the yellow panties of the lead defense attorney as she leans over to get documents is just wrong.

#1.     See the black panties of the lead defense attorney through her white pants is just wronger.

Jury Duty Wrap Part One – What I Saw

I answered the call for public service this week and served five days of jury duty in St. Louis County.  It was a civil case.  A police officer at Lambert Airport sued the City of St. Louis for age discrimination and retaliation.  The jury found in favor of the city, saying there was no age discrimination or retaliation.  Although I sat through the entire trial, as an alternate juror, I didn’t get to take part in the deliberations.  That sucked, but I did stick around to hear what my new friends decided.

LA Law - The Source of My Law Knowledge

Each jury member had to wear a badge identifying us as a juror in and around the courtroom, including out to lunch.  This was a reminder to both sides not to talk to us.  We reported each morning to our jury room and, except for lunch, moved between the courtroom and the jury room all day.  Our bailiff Bob never left our side except for lunch.  On the few times Bob had to run and errand, he locked the door from the outside.  There was as much isolation as possible.

The court proceedings were much as I imagined, given my deep experience watching L.A. Law and Law and Order.  We got opening and closing statements, a parade of witnesses, and depositions read out loud.

We got a ton of objections:  asked and answered, badgering the witness, no foundation, compound question, vague question.  One of the plaintiff’s attorney was particularly poor at asking questions, so the defense was left to object:  “I have no idea what he’s asking.”

We got two tons of objectives.  The plaintiffs used numbers and got as high as 55.  The defense used letters and got as high as AAA (that’s 57).  Each time a new one came up — Your honor, we’d like to enter this document as Exhibit 1.  Any objections?  No objections.  Document entered as Exhibit 1.  Over and over and over and over.

The only thing that didn’t make sense to me was that the plaintiffs and defense all sat at one table.  It’s hard to see how they can have meaningful conversations.  Oh – speaking of conversations — lots and lots and lots of sidebar conversations.  We pulled out book when they went sidebar because they took so long.

Tomorrow – the lighter side of jury duty.

You Can’t Always Get Them “Next Time”

Those who follow me on Twitter (@STLSpidey) or know me personally, know that I’m in jury duty this week.  The case started Monday and is still proceeding.  I’m back in court tomorrow morning at 9am CDT.  I can’t  tell you anything about the court case, except to say that it’s a civil case (i.e., a lawsuit) and not a criminal case.

Some of you also know that I enjoy coaching my kids’ sports teams in my spare time.  I’m currently coaching my daughter’s 12U softball team, the Bullfrogs.  The Bullfrogs won tonight 15-8, our fifth victory in a row.  We are 5-3, with four games to play and are about to clinch our first winning season ever.

It is definitely fun when you win.  The Blackhawks and their fans know that today (as do the Hershey Bears’ fans).  But the pain of losing in sports is quickly replaced by the desire to compete again.  Losing sports teams always get a second chance.  “We’ll get ’em next time” is the popular refrain.  The Flyers know that the NHL season starts again in October.  They’ll get a chance to play the Blackhawks and get another shot to advance through the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup.  Until this season, the Bullfrogs were perennial losers in the mold of the Bad News Bears.  But the girls stuck with it and, in what is the fifth year together for the core group, will finally get a winning season – some measure of redemption for all those last place finishes.

Even the Bad News Bears Got a "Next Time""

I was struck driving home from the Bullfrogs game tonight that my court case, although it will have a winner and a loser, is not like sports at all.  You can’t “get ’em next time” if you lose.  Sure, the lawyers can try cases against one another in the future, but the plaintiff or the defendant (whoever loses) won’t get another shot.  Save an appeals process, there is no “next time.”  For the loser, the anticipation of the next game that follows the sadness of the loss will never come.  The loser might ruminate on what they could have done differently to win, but, unlike sports teams, they won’t get a chance to try the different strategies.  That’s sad.

I love it that the Flyers have a “next time.”  I love it that every batter for the Pirates will get a “next time” against Stephen Strasburg.  I’ve seen the Bullfrogs get their “next time” and do something with it.  I’m not saying that losers of a civil court case deserve a “next time,” but I hadn’t realized the harsh finality of the outcome until tonight.

Back Now and Ready to Take the Challenge

Wow — I haven’t posted since March.  Time to rectify that.

Spidey Outside the Ship in Ocho Rios, Jamaica

The Spidey family is back from a 10-day vacation to Orlando and the Caribbean.  We had a blast.  We are Disney veterans.  Our nearly 15-year-old son thinks he’s been to Disney World at least 8 times, which doesn’t include Disneyland Paris, Disneyland or Tokyo Disney, where we’ve been also. Nonetheless, we have a good time whenever we go.

This time, we only spent three days in Orlando before heading to Port Canaveral for a week-long cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom-of-the-Seas.  Wow!  This is one of those massive ships with an ice skating rink, rock walls, and on-deck surfing and boogie boarding.  We went to RC’s private beach in Haiti, to Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel.  We gained weight, drank our share, and lost money in the casino.  We needed naps when we got home two days ago.

While on the trip, I started and finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I highly recommend it, and it’s under $8 for the Kindle.  I’m actually glad I was on a ship outside the U.S. and couldn’t download the next book in Larsson’s series.  I would have gotten sucked in, and I need to finish other books.

The primary one of those books I’m trying to finish is The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  I had been listening to the audio version on the treadmill, but I decided I’d rather read it and bookmark some spots for reference.  In this book, Rubin writes of her 12 month experiment to increase her happiness.  I think we can all learn a lot by reading how she deals with “midlife malaise,” which isn’t really unhappiness or depression, but, as she writes, “a recurrent sense of discontent and almost a feeling of disbelief.”  That certainly describes me some days.

In her chapter on March, Rubin describes how she launched her blog (www.happiness-project.com) and committed to posting every single day as a challenge.  I’ve also read Ted Leonsis’ book The Business of Happiness, in which he writes that finding outlets for self-expression is an important component of happiness.

Now that I’m back (and still embarrassed at the 10-week absence of posts), I’m going to take the same blog challenge of posting every day.  Which means – more tomorrow.  Come back.

Random Thoughts from Beijing

I’m in closing in on my fourth night of my sixth trip to China since September.  I tweeted tonight with a photo of Spidey next to a PapaJohns box.  It’s been that kind of trip.  Working all the time requires comfort food once in a while.

As I told a colleague via email the other day — life with an international team can seem glamorous – and it can be, but it often isn’t unlike a trip to Denver or Phoenix or Albany.  Personally, I love traveling.  I like the experience on the airplane.  I like the different cultures.  I also like the challenges of starting up businesses in new places.  International business is what I studied years ago, and now I’m getting to use it again.

But the trips, even to a places like Beijing, are becoming less and less of a hardship.  Let me tell you about my day today.  I didn’t have any meetings in our office, so I decided to stay in our apartment and work.  It started with a 6:30am run in our club, which has about 15 treadmills, full weight equipment, sauna, steamroom, whirlpool, etc.  Yes, that’s a hardship.

Next was a bowl of Frosted Flakes – just like home.  As I ate, I watched the Caps and Canes via Slingbox, simultaneously checking NCAA tournament scores on espn.com and participating in a Caps chatboard on Japers’ Rink.   All this time, I’m connected wirelessly to the Internet.  Again, big hardship.

I did work, rest of the day in the apartment.  I got a lot done.  I left the building only once today —  to walk a block to a Starbucks, where I said “grande black coffee” and got one 18RMB later.   In many way, this day could have taken place in Akron or Richmond or Boise.

(The best part about China may be the time zone difference for U.S. sports.  East Coast U.S. games start at 7:00am here with the 12 hour time difference.  I never have to stay up late to catch multiple overtimes!  I caught the Yankees winning the World Series at 11:30am.)

I’m hoping against hope to get out somewhere in Beijing tomorrow.  We’ll see.  I know tomorrow starts with sleeping late, but after that, it will be a challenge to avoid work.