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Jeff Barat Leads Flint Hockey Into New Rink and New Era

02/16/2017, 10:30am MST
By Greg Bates

Renovated rink and try-hockey-for-free programs a hit with new players

When the Greater Flint Hockey Association (GFHA) got back up and running in summer 2014, it meant brighter days were ahead.

The previous two years were a dark time for the association after its home rink had shut down. But the reopening and renaming of the Crystal Fieldhouse Ice Arena in Burton, Michigan, meant local kids had another venue to be able to skate and play hockey.

Now the GFHA — which has been around for decades and battled through a number of rink shutdowns — is thriving at its “new” rink.

“We got a lot of support from the community,” said Jeff Barat, GFHA president, treasurer and disabled hockey director.

Barat, who took over the three positions when the GFHA started back up, has been a driving force in helping the association get its numbers to gradually increase.

“I think we’ve made pretty good progress,” Barat said. “Our program’s basically 8-and-under — we have three teams that are 8-and-under.”

The association went from six kids in 2014 to over 70 now. Barat said the Flint area is still in tough financial straits following the country’s last recession.

One big reason numbers have grown so quickly is because the GFHA offers a try-hockey-for-free session at least once a month. Without the free activities, local parents might not be able to afford having their kids play hockey.

“It’s open to the community,” Barat said. “The word’s pretty much out now that every month we get a lot of repeat customers that don’t sign up, but that’s their thing. They come out and play hockey.”

The GFHA, which is offering its next try-hockey-for-free day on Feb. 25, usually gets about 20-25 skaters for each event. Barat noted that two or three kids per month end up signing up to play in the association after taking part in try-hockey-for-free.

“We keep an email record and we notify everybody every month when it’s coming and ask them to sign up,” Barat said. “We do advertising on the radio.”

Kids can come out to the rink on the free days with no strings attached. The GFHA received a bunch of donated equipment from the Detroit area that has really helped out.

“Through the learn-to-play, we have enough for everybody, we really do,” Barat said. “Also, if someone wants to try hockey, we give them a bag of equipment. We just ask them to bring it back.

“We don’t put them in the prettiest stuff, but it works.”

Also, if a player grows out of their equipment, the association is happy to trade gear with them to keep costs low.

“I’d like to find more ways to get the game more affordable, that’s my No. 1 goal,” Barat said. “We do stuff like if you want to try it for a day, you can just come out and try hockey for free any time. But it’s by appointment so we have a coach available to work with.”

Prior to taking over administrative positions in the GFHA, Barat was a coach from 1995-2010 when his kids were involved in the program. He coached from 8U up to 12U.

With his coaching background, Barat likes to stop by youth practices and get on the ice when he can. He’s also instrumental is helping lead the roughly 20 coaches in the program.

“All our new coaches I’ll work with them for about a month and then I’ll kind of disappear,” Barat said. “That way they don’t rely on me too much.”

Barat, 57, is retired and has time to dedicate to the association. That’s a big reason he took on administrative positions when the GFHA was in need of a president.

“I was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Barat said laughing. “No, I enjoy it or I wouldn’t do it.”

The GFHA recently added a new disabled hockey director, who will relieve Barat from one of his extra duties. That will give him a chance to concentrate on being the president and treasurer. In his positions, Barat spends plenty of time scheduling, making sure everything is lined up with the coaches and handling the learn-to-play program.

Barat loves being a part of the association and playing a major role and it continues to grow.

“It just keeps you busy and you see the kids,” Barat said. “I think we’ve done a lot of good.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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