Coquitlam school's hockey league breaks down barriers
The score was 3-0 and but the losing team wasn't giving up hope.
With impressive stick-handling and some spirited defence, the team marshalled a determined front against a powerful offence but couldn't stop a shot that found net, top shelf.
But this was not professional hockey, and instead of grousing about the additional goal, the game simply stopped to allow team members to help a goalie off with his gear so another stalwart netminder could take his place.
Then the game resumed, much to the enthusiasm of all the players, plus about two dozen cheering fans.
Why so much excitement? The winter ball-hockey season is nearing the end for the Porter Hockey League and the stakes are high.
What began as a fun way to integrate French and English students in a dual-track school has become a tradition for Porter Street elementary in Coquitlam, and principal Brent Pattison is a proud fan.
"It's definitely brought the kids together," Pattison said, crediting teacher Dan Mariotti for organizing the league and building school spirit.
Mariotti, who has been an educator for 12 years, the last two at Porter Street, decided to do his graduate field studies on the benefits of the league to building rapport between French Immersion and English students. Typically, the two tracks don't mix but Mariotti said the hockey league is changing the dynamics in the school.
He organized the teams with players who didn't know one another and will be interviewing the 85 kids (and teachers) at the end of the season in April to see how it worked out.
The kids don't know they're part of this experiment, he said. "They just enjoy the game."
COMPETING BUILDS SKILLS
While some educators, including well-known American lecturer Alfie Kohn, decry competition in education, Mariotti has found that the PHL, with its competitive standings and trophy — made of recycled bottles, bowls, tape and aluminum foil — brings students together. The teams get NHL names and although teams are balanced with experienced and inexperienced players, the standings are posted, and the scores, goals and assists announced in a morning sports report over the PA system. The students sign a "commitment" contract — there are no substitutions so if someone is sick, the team plays short — and penalties are awarded for high-sticking and other infractions.
There are even trade rumours.
The fun atmosphere created by the competition encourages students to stand together, regardless of whether they are in English or French classes, whether they're girls or boys or in Grades 4 or 5, Mariotti says.
"The hockey is just the avenue. The lessons that come from it, working as a team, camaraderie, friendships, collaboration — I so disagree with [eliminating competition in kids' sports and education].
"It's not all roses out there. I have kids in tears when they lose. To be honest, I like that, they have passion," he said, adding that he sees students learning to handle difficult moments with grace.
Mariotti has noticed the girls give as good as they get in the game, never backing down, and he hopes the experience and sense of empowerment from playing in the PHL will give them confidence in other areas of their life.
For the students who play the lunchtime round-robin series, it's a chance to run around, play with their friends and possibly earn a chance to hoist the PHL cup if they win.
Luke and Matthew, both in Grade 5, play for opposite teams — the Oilers and the Canucks — and say it's pretty obvious why they like playing in the PHL.
"It's ball hockey, we all like hockey," said Matthew.
Luke agrees: "I like how you just get to play hockey. It's one of my favourite sports."
And so what if there's a hidden education agenda behind the game?
For more about this program and other School District 43 innovations, visit the Bright Ideas Gallery.