Steve Sheaffer remembers picking up hockey in the late 1950s.
Growing up in Hyannis, Massachusetts, there were opportunities for kids around 12 years old to play in the Kennedy Memorial Youth Hockey League (KMYHL). Sheaffer admits he wasn’t a skilled player, so he spent time in the league’s farm system and not on a team.
“I had a father who would not drive me to practice, which was 5:30, 6 o’clock in the morning, and I was told, ‘Do not wake your mother up. If you want to go, you will ride your bicycle,’ Sheaffer said. “In December on Cape Cod, it gets pretty cold. So I’d hang my skates around my neck and stick across the handle bars and off I’d go.”
Sheaffer toughed out the cold conditions for about four weeks before he gave up on hockey.
Sheaffer, who served in the Air Force from 1964-68, got back into the sport about a decade and a half later. But instead of playing, Sheaffer decided he could make a difference as a coach.
His first year on the bench was 1973-74, and he has been fully involved as a coach ever since. This year marks 50 years dedicated to coaching in the KMYHL, now known as the Barnstable Youth Hockey Association.
Sheaffer’s impact on hockey in the Hyannis community is immeasurable.
The 77-year-old said there are players from some of his earliest teams that are still playing in adult leagues. What he’s most proud of though is the number of coaches he helped create.
“As all of these kids told me, they get into coaching because of the way I treated them,” Sheaffer said. “They’ve had other coaches that have yelled and screamed and hollered and didn’t show them anything and didn’t run good practices. These kids appreciated the way I treated them, with respect, and the stuff that I showed them along the way. So there’s a bunch of them that got into coaching because of me, which I’m kind of proud of.”
A lot of youth coaches get into it to coach their kids and help them develop. That wasn’t the case for Sheaffer, as his two daughters didn’t play hockey.
“I got in to help out, but also, once I got into (14U), it was to give back to kids — give them the shot that I never had,” said Sheaffer, who played adult league hockey for 38 years. “I wasn’t that good, so no one took an interest in us. We were kind of off to the side and we had one coach that would skate around with us, but there wasn’t much instruction. It wasn’t good.”
Sheaffer’s first gig was as an assistant coach. The next year, the head coach moved to 10U and he recommended that Sheaffer take his position.
He accepted the head coaching role and was joined by his friend, Norm McCutcheon. Over their 20 years working together, Sheaffer and McCutcheon coached the B’s and C’s teams.
Sheaffer was a 14U boys coach until 2010. That same year, Sheaffer got a call from his niece and was asked if he would be interested in coaching a 14U girls’ team. Despite never coaching girls before, Sheaffer accepted the challenge.
“It was kind of a culture shock,” Sheaffer said. “They wanted to learn, so it was a little bit easier to coach them than the boys. When you blew the whistle, they’d all come around you. Boys, they’ll take a puck and go shoot against the boards for two or three minutes before you can get them over to the meeting.”
Sheaffer has slowed down his coaching responsibilities, but he always has the itch. He recently broke his leg in a motorcycle accident and has not been able to do much of anything.
However, Sheaffer went to watch his grandson play a 14U game and noticed the coach didn’t have an assistant, so he offered up his services. Straying too far away from the rink has proven difficult for Sheaffer; hockey’s too important in his life.
During his coaching career, Sheaffer has been lucky enough to be a part of one boys’ team and two girls’ teams that have gone undefeated. He also was on the other end of the spectrum, coaching a team that won just one game in a season.
A couple years ago Sheaffer was asked what his record is as a coach. He said he has no clue.
“It wasn’t about wins and losses,” he said. “It was about getting the kids to enjoy the game, to learn the game, learn sportsmanship, have a good time and that’s what it’s been.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.