Christmas comes early whenever Jim Smith and Kevin McLaughlin enter the room at a USA Hockey Affiliate Presidents’ meeting.
As part of their duties, Smith, USA Hockey’s treasurer, and McLaughlin, senior director of Hockey Development, have the enviable task of handing out annual block grants to the 37 Affiliates, who in turn spread the wealth to help grow the game at the grass-roots level.
More than simply passing out checks, the pair derives a sense of satisfaction from reading all the good things that local organizations are doing to improve hockey in their respective areas.
“Ever since we instituted the block grant program, 10 to 12 years ago, it’s just been a terrific program for the Affiliates because of the various programs that they’ve been able to use it for,” Smith said.
“It’s great to read the final reports and look at where they spent the money, and look at the projections for the upcoming season and where they plan to spend it on innovative programs.”
For example, in Smith’s own backyard, the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois is helping to fund programs to get more kids playing the game by lowering the cost of trying it first.
Over the years AHAI has purchased hundreds of sets of OneGoal equipment that are then loaned out to local associations to stage Try Hockey For Free events around the state.
This year, AHAI is one of a number of Affiliates who will also help defray the cost of hard dividers that are part of a new program designed to give cross-ice hockey the look and feel of a real rink.
“The advantage of the block grants is it really helps us to kick start some of the programs that might be met with hesitation if we didn’t have that extra money to kick in,” said John Dunn, the president of AHAI.
In the early stages of the program some Affiliates used the money to defray the cost of their annual meetings. Over the years, as USA Hockey continues to promote growth and skill development programs, the Affiliates have used the funds to expand safety and screening programs, and to support the growth of disabled hockey in their area.
“It helps us do things mainly that fee-wise alone without the block grant money we couldn’t afford to do,” said Joe Baudo, president of the New York State Amateur Hockey Association.
“In New York it’s allowed us to give out our own grants to organizations to help us grow the game by purchasing equipment and cross-ice bumpers.”
NYSAHA has actually purchased trailers that allow the Affiliate to take its show on the road, so to speak, by bringing sets of OneGoal equipment as well as sleds to areas that are looking to grow the game.
The current block grant program was expanded this year as part of the first USA Hockey fee increase in seven years. A percentage of the $10 increase, which was enacted to help offset the rising cost of everything from insurance to travel expenses as well as help pay for new programs and initiatives, is returned to Affiliates to the tune of $3 for each paid, registered player based on the previous registration totals.
That increase has not only helped local board members sell the fee increase to their members, it allows them to press forward with new programs.
In Illinois, a plan is underway to create three new ADM teams in Glen Ellen that will strictly follow the ADM practice models for a Squirt team and two Peewee teams. According to Dunn, helping to finance this program brings added incentive for parents to be a part of this innovative program.
“We’re helping to fund them a little bit and make them a little cost effective for the parents and attractive to the members to do that,” Dunn said.
“We’re hoping to use some of that money to help them get off the ground and get that ball rolling, and hopefully other associations follow suit.”