Mrs. Alton B Jones invariably is referred to as “the gracious lady of Talbot County.” And with good reason.
Just ask anybody affiliated with the Easton IceHawks.
In 1979, Mrs. Jones donated the money required to build the Hog Neck Arena, and then she donated the arena to Talbot County in Maryland.
“She had been an ice skating enthusiast,” IceHawks Hockey Director Obrad Milutinovich said. “There is an ice skating culture here in the Chesapeake Bay area. In the past, ponds would freeze over. But there never was a rink or an organized association.
“She wanted to have that for this town. If not for Mrs. Jones, there wouldn’t have been the IceHawks. I was an original player and started in 1980. She was the patron saint of ice sports in Easton. Without the ice, we definitely wouldn’t be here.”
Although Brown was responsible for the rink, Jim Kar was responsible for the IceHawks. After Kar, a former college hockey player at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, moved to Easton, he proposed starting an association to Hog Neck Arena management. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Thirteen boys aged 7 to 13 started to learn the fundamentals of skating for ice hockey that first year. Now, fast forward to the 2013-14 season, and 165 boys play on 10 IceHawks teams ranging from Mite LA (LA stands for Lower A team while UA stands for Upper A) to Under-18 UA.
“The program had grown up to 180 to 200 boys at one point and then ebbed,” Milutinovich said. “When my wife [Genny] took over as president, we were at 120. So, over the last four years, we’ve grown by about 40.”
The fact that the IceHawks added players wasn’t an accident, but it was attributable in part to USA Hockey. Under the direction of Genny, the IceHawks have followed USA Hockey’s 2 & 2 Challenge, a program designed to help increase participation for Under-8 players by encouraging associations to acquire two additional players each year and retain two additional players more than the previous season's total.
“The 2 & 2 Challenge gives you guidelines on things to do like a try hockey for free night,” Milutinovich said. “She’s been utilizing all the programs and using all the equipment to grow the program.”
In addition, the Potomac Valley Hockey Amateur Association gives out career grants for the express purpose of growing hockey in various ways.
“Genny applies for it and gets money for equipment,” her husband said. “With the career grant she’s buying promotional material so kids can try it out and use it as a recruitment tool.
“She’s there all the time. She’s good face to face with people and new or potential recruits and selling the program.”
Another factor in the growth of the IceHawks has been the organization’s adoption of USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
“We’re full on board with the ADM,” Obrad Milutinovich said. “I’m in charge of Mites and overseeing the coaches to make sure they’re learning the ADM. We’re starting with the U8 coaches.
“In addition to being the hockey director I’m also a volunteer trainer for the USA Hockey Coaches Education Program. I’m kind of a company guy, so we push the ADM. I’m totally sold on it. We’re seeing the benefits already and the player-retention factor.
“I went to a camp at Brown University where they ran small-area games and drills that are heavily featured in the ADM in terms of maximizing ice time,” added Milutinovich. “The kids love it, and so do the parents because they see their kids moving. You design your practices so the kids are constantly moving.”
The Easton IceHawks also did something else: they converted from a travel/rec program to an all-travel program.
“We went from travel/rec to all travel in order to allow all levels to be given a similar program and have lateral mobility and to give incentive to players,” Milutinovich said.
The IceHawks ultimately have two primary goals: to grow the program and to retain numbers and to develop players.
“We feel the ADM fits nicely into both of those categories,” Milutinovich said. “In terms of player retention and development, it hits all the chords.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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