For around 20 years, Sauk Rapids Youth Hockey Association has been excited to welcome in 8U players from around the Central Minnesota area for their annual Mite Jamboree.
“We’ve been one of the largest in the state for many years. Last year, we had over 120 teams register and participate,” said Mindy Thomes, a hockey mom who is heavily involved with the Jamboree. “It has grown tremendously and is one of the biggest in Minnesota.”
The plans were in the works for the 2021 version of the Jamboree, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event had to shift gears. Many games and events were canceled at the 8U level in Minnesota, so Thomes and a committee of six others got to work to create a fun, virtual event.
“We had already put in a lot of work and effort, so we thought ‘Let’s do something fun for these kids’,” Thomes said. “We will get creative to give our kids the opportunity to have fun and participate in some really cool challenges.”
The committee presented the idea to their board and the planning process began. They reached out to local businesses and potential sponsors, such as Noel Johnson, who is a coach and has a daughter in the organization, to help come up with challenges and prizes for registered teams to complete.
“I think one of the advantages we have in Sauk Rapids is the bordering towns. It’s a huge hockey community as a whole,” Johnson said. “As soon as they reached out, they didn’t have to ask a whole lot. They asked if I wanted to be involved. I said, ‘For sure, just tell me what level.’ I think it’s a great event.”
The virtual Jamboree will take place from Feb. 22 – March 7, and is open to any team 8U or younger in Minnesota. Teams can register for free, and once they register, they receive a list of challenges they can complete as a team. Karen Riba, a hockey mom to three and one the steering forces on the committee, said there are multiple ways for teams to participate.
Sauk Rapids plans to continue its on-ice Jamboree next season.
“It can be anything from an in-house game to a team photo. There’s all kind of fun drills and activities for the teams to do together,” Riba said. “They can submit the picture or video to us, and we’re also encouraging them to submit via social media using #MNHockeyStrong. At the end, we’ll tally up the points and have prizes for the winners.”
Local businesses are getting involved by providing their own list of prizes for completed challenges as a way to show the strength of their hockey community. The excitement level to have hockey activities back for the 8U age group has been a driving force in creating this virtual event.
“Everybody is really excited to be with their teams. This gives them something to do with their team to really have fun,” Riba said.
Not only are the kids excited to be competing with their teams, but certain challenges provide the opportunity for the whole family to get involved. Thomes said her older kids were upset that they didn’t get a virtual event of their own.
“We’re actually creating a challenge that they can do with their older sibling and win a prize together because our older kids are so bummed that they’re going to miss out on this jamboree. Everyone seems super excited to join in and have a lot of fun.”
Next season, the goal is to hold the jamboree on the ice again and return to the tournament that everyone in Central Minnesota loves. So what happens to the virtual side?
“We’ve talked about if this is successful incorporating it into our jamboree next year,” Thomes said. “Our kids are here to play hockey for fun, especially at this level. We hope that any association that wants to do something similar would reach out and we would be happy to discuss it. It’s purely for the fun and to keep Minnesota hockey strong.”
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