A pair of South Carolina youth hockey organizations, with ties to two local ECHL teams and the Carolina Hurricanes nearby, have experienced tremendous growth.
A Try Hockey for Free event this past weekend also played a part in enhancing that recent growth.
“It was spectacular,” said Angela Brady, registrar for the Charleston Youth Hockey Association. “We were very encouraged. It was a good turnout and we were very happy.”
Try Hockey for Free events are designed to provide kids ages 4 to 9 the opportunity to try hockey in a fun, safe environment with a trained coaching staff. No experience is necessary, and USA Hockey holds two national dates every year when multiple Try Hockey For Free events take place across the country.
Jai Gilliland is the hockey director at The Pavilion, a recreation center in Greenville, South Carolina, that originally opened in 1990. Gilliland said there were 26 kids at the facility for their event this past weekend and the goal was to have a 3- or 4:1 ratio of kids to coaches.
“Everybody seemed to love it,” Gilliland said. “We got a good reaction from most parents. We had our Learn to Play coaches nearby and they’re really just picking up kids and getting them out there. We kind of insulate it and make it closer to 1:1 as possible.”
Brady said her organization hosted 52 skaters with the help of 10 coaches and eight players from the local 16U and 18U teams assisting.
“We were very encouraged to see that we had a lot of new little girls that were in this group,” Brady said. “It was just an awesome day.”
Brady and Gilliland said their organizations participate in the two USA Hockey Try Hockey for Free dates each year.
In October, Brady said the Charleston Youth Hockey Association held a Try Hockey for Free event for girls and they’re running another exclusively for girls in December in partnership with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays, who are holding a Women in Sports Night on Dec. 30.
The Charleston Youth Hockey Association is also planning a Try Goalie for Free event in 2024.
Gilliland’s organization runs an eight-week Learn to Play program about six times per year. The goal is to run two or three of its own, in addition to the two events held during USA Hockey’s national push. According to Gilliland, there’s about 35 to 40 kids during each eight-week session.
Gilliland said he sees the biggest uptick in participation during years when the Winter Olympics are held. Recently, there have been more kids that have said they joined because of their Carolina Hurricanes fandom. In fact, North Carolina and South Carolina USA Hockey youth hockey registration numbers are up 15% in the last five seasons (2018-2023).
Gilliland said they also have a good relationship with the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits. The same can be said for Brady and the Stingrays. There’s a Little Rays program run year-round by the rink for four sessions per year and there’s about 75 kids currently registered in the fall session.
“We set up a table at the Stingray games to let people know we’re here in the community,” Brady said. “It’s just getting out there in the communities, but I think the partnering with our ECHL team is a tremendous edge.”
Gilliland and Brady both said it helps that the local communities are experiencing an uptick in population.
“We’re very pleased with the growth we continue to see here in South Carolina,” Brady concluded.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.