When describing the hockey community at Chaparral Ice Arena in Austin, Texas, General Manager Angie Vaught had one analogy come to mind.
“We’re the island of misfit toys in Texas,” Vaught said. “We’re not baseball and not football. We work to foster a tight-knit community that has a family-like atmosphere.”
Vaught and the Chaparral staff have worked tirelessly to help build a hockey community in Austin. By helping foster this friendly environment through events such as USA Hockey Try Hockey For Free Day, this southern haven has become a place where hockey families can go and feel welcome.
For Chaparral, the introduction of Try Hockey For Free eight years ago was something they jumped on right away.
“We were involved at the beginning,” Vaught said. “In a non-traditional market, we need all the help we can get.”
For Vaught and others in Austin, the recruiting effort starts from the gym floor up. Vaught visits physical education classes in the area, teaching the skills for floor hockey and street hockey. The hope is that if the kids enjoy that, the idea for ice hockey might be planted in their minds.
“If they enjoy it, we tell them, ‘Hey, come on out and try it on the ice,” Vaught said.
Aside from Vaught and others teaching the skills of the game off the ice, they also promote the word-of-mouth effort for everyone in their associations. That has been the most successful recruitment effort thus far.
“The best recruiting results we get are from people who tag along with a friend,” Vaught said. “Eighty-five percent of our recruiting is based on relationships and conversations. That has been huge for us.”
Chaparral also benefits from the efforts of the Texas Stars, an American Hockey League Team that calls Austin home. The team advertises the event at Chaparral in the fall and spring along with hosting tailgates to help promote hockey in Austin.
Once Try Hockey For Free Day arrives, it’s up to the current players and parents to help make the experience memorable.
“Our kids being out there helps others have a great experience,” Vaught said. “When we get our current kids in the mindset of coaching, they tend to learn some things, too.”
While those who come out for THFF might eventually join an association, there are some in Austin who don’t realize hockey is a viable sport for their child. But if they show up at the rink, that idea gets debunked.
“Some parents don’t think it’s realistic for their kids to play hockey here,” Vaught said. “But they get to see some of the other 4-, 5-, 6-, 7-year-olds get out on the ice and be successful and then they realize it’s an obtainable goal.”
Vaught is dedicated to welcoming those who are new to the sport and those who might be new to the area and need a place to play.
That’s where Shanan Colvin and her son, Max, come in. Shanan and her husband are military veterans. When stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Max went to a Try Hockey For Free event and ended up loving the sport.
Like other military families, the Colvins have moved to various places, including their most recent stop, Austin. While here, Max has reentered hockey and is now playing at Chaparral in the 6U program.
“It was a pretty seamless transition,” Shanan said. “[Vaught] helped sign him up. We showed up and it was like we had been there forever.”
That welcoming atmosphere is what has helped Chaparral succeed at attracting new members. In 2010, one of the arena’s Try Hockey events drew more than 100 participants. For the March 3 event, there are already more than 40 players registered.
Though all 40 players might not end up choosing hockey as a sport they want to play forever, Vaught and the hockey community at Chaparral will continue to open their arms for anyone that’s interested.
“We have kids that come in after trying a lot of sports and love the fact we are so inclusive and treat them as well as we do,” Vaught said. “We continue to introduce those in the community to the sport in a comfortable, pressure-free way through Try Hockey.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.