Lakers give back to younger fans
For second-year Fort Frances Lakers’ goalie Tanner Hamilton, meeting up with the students of Robert Moore School on a weekly basis brings him back to when he was growing up in Saskatoon, Sask. and the stars of the biggest hockey team in his hometown would come into the classroom.
“We would have the [WHL’s] Saskatoon Blades stop by every now and then, and it was always cool to see them,” Hamilton recalled.
During the hockey season, members of the Lakers pay a visit to three of the local elementary schools (Robert Moore, J.W. Walker, and St. Michael’s) as part of the team’s “Adopt-a-School” program, where they engage with the students in a variety of activities.
“It’s always something different depending on whatever the teacher that is assigned to have the Lakers come into their classroom has in mind,” explained Robert Moore vice-principal Cam Keast.
“Some weeks, the Lakers might be helping the students out with some math assignments or with their reading, or they could also be participating in gym activity with them,” he noted.
The “Adopt-a-School” program is the brainchild of Larry Patrick, who taught for more than 30 years here and has helped with SIJHL teams in Fort Frances since 2008, when the former Jr. Sabres called the Ice For Kids Arena home.
“When I got involved with the team about five years ago, I thought that there had to be some way to bring the kids on the team into the school system as they are good role models and they can help the students with literacy,” Patrick explained.
“I talked to the principals, who all thought it was a good idea, and things began to get going from there.”
At the start of each season, Patrick is given a list of players from Lakers’ coach Wayne Strachan who are available to go into the schools.
Then he sets out dividing those players into the three schools taking part.
“Three is about the maximum number of schools that we can do,” noted Patrick.
“Otherwise, we’re spread a little bit thin as some players can’t go to schools and see the students because they have a job or they are in class themselves.
“I also like to have a leader for each of the school groups, so this year we have Tanner Hamilton at Robert Moore, Jon Carlson at St. Michael’s, and Merritt Rysavy at J.W. Walker.
“All three guys have played here in the past and are familiar with how the program works, and we have a core group of players under each of them,” Patrick added.
Even though the Lakers’ players may be heading into the classroom just hours after suffering a tough loss, they still look forward to seeing some of their youngest fans and getting to help them out whenever they can.
“It’s nice to be involved in the community and everything that goes along with that,” enthused Hamilton.
“When you walk into the classroom, the kids are all happy and starry-eyed to be seeing the Lakers’ players, and it’s nice to be helping them out.
“And it’s also a good feeling when you see them at the rink, too, during your games,” he added.
While the kids sometimes are awestruck by the players they see suit up in the SIJHL on a regular basis, Keast has noticed they also want to impress them with their school activities.
“From talking to the teachers, they’ve said that there is a sense that the students want to try even harder in the classroom when someone new is there,” he remarked.
“That’s something we’ve noticed here when the Lakers come in because the kids all look up to them,” he added.
Looking to the future, Patrick feels the “Adopt-a-School” program will continue to be a success, especially as it’s been around now for half-a-decade.
“I think the biggest factor that has helped the program is the familiarity the schools have with it now,” Patrick said.
“They ask me right away when the Lakers are going to be coming in and how long do we have them for at the start of the season,” he noted.
“So there is a comfort level there with the schools that is nice to have.”