By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
RICHARDSON—Rubbing elbow pads with high school hockey players has offered a quartet of eighth-graders at St. Joseph Catholic School a lunchtime discussion topic, a classroom presentation theme and loads of fun.
For Kevin Condy, Michael Keelan and identical twins Brendan and Nicholas Gibbs, conversation usually flows along the lines of hockey talk.
They play for the junior varsity “Silver” teams at Jesuit College Preparatory School in Dallas and John Paul II High School in Plano.
Their coaches have noticed their maturity on and off the ice. St. Joseph principal Camille Antes said that the boys, who also participate in school
sports, are gaining organizational skills from their responsibility for keeping tabs on all the gear hockey requires.
“You need to make sure you have your skates; helmets; gloves; knee pads; elbow pads; neck guard, and mouth guard,” Nicholas said as the boys ate lunch on a recent day. “But it’s definitely fun when you score a goal.”
His brother said that playing with high school athletes has improved his game.
“I’ve definitely gotten better at skating, stick-handling and probably my shot,” said Brendan, who plays for Jesuit junior varsity silver with his brother and Keelan. “At our last practice, one of the Jesuit sophomores gave me advice on not bringing the puck so close to the net when you’re on a power play. It was a good reminder.”
The middle-schoolers said that their preview of the high school setting has increased their overall comfort zone as they prepare to graduate from eighth grade.
A win-win situation
The arrangement is a win-win situation for the eighth-grade athletes and the schools, said their coaches and Rich Gaffney, John Paul II’s dean of administrative services and director of Athletics.
Gaffney said that JPII’s Silver JV squad invites eighth-graders who have indicated an intention to attend JPII.
“Two years ago, parents were asking about hockey,” said Gaffney, whose school’s hockey program is in its second year. “The hockey program has brought us several students already.”
Condy, who plays for JPII’s JV Silver squad, said that he hopes to attend that school next year. Keelan and the Gibbs twins said that they hopes to go to Jesuit.
St. Joseph has the largest concentration of eighth-graders in high school hockey programs among the K-through-eighth-grade Dallas diocesan schools that are represented on the squads at Jesuit and JPII.
The St. Joseph athletes have played competitive hockey for at least five years, but Nicholas said that he recalled being on edge a bit before his first practice with the Jesuit squad last fall.
“I thought I was going to get creamed, even though we had some experience the year before playing pee-wee hockey with hitting,” he said. “Hockey really keeps you in shape.”
Keelan said that the high school players are unselfish provided the eighth-graders are correctly positioned.
“They help out a lot,” he said. “If you’re in the right spot at the right time, they will send the puck your way.”
Jesuit’s varsity won its third state championship last season and played in the USA Hockey High School National Championships in Coral Springs, Fla., where the Rangers beat schools from New York and Florida and lost to eventual national champion Santa Margarita, Calif.
John Paul II expects to have its first varsity hockey team next school year.
The schools compete in the AT&T Metroplex High School Hockey League, which has 19 varsity teams and 23 junior varsity squads.
The teams are similar to club teams, said Joel Scott, a hockey coaching staff member at JPII who works with the JV silver squad.
“The eighth-graders have gained confidence and look to the high school players as older brothers,” Scott said. “It gives them a little introduction to high school, as well.”
Condy said he likes the positive hockey coaching style at JPII.
“I’m skating faster than I was before,” he said. “It’s really fun to play hockey.”
Jesuit assistant hockey coach Clair Gannon, a former Rangers goalie who graduated in 2007, said that the eighth-graders receive a warm welcome.
“All of our high school guys really embrace them,” Gannon said. “The eighth-graders come in with the skills they need, but they’ve dramatically improved in areas such as being in the right place at the right time.”
The twins said that they don’t know if they confuse their opponents, but that their coaches can tell them apart on the ice because Brendan’s hockey stick is orange and black, and Nicholas’ stick is yellow and black.
Managing the gear alone should guarantee that the boys arrive in class with all the necessary materials, Antes said with a laugh.
“Their shared interest keeps them close friends,” she said. “Hockey is a big part of their lives.”