All in the family: Jr. Gulls more than a youth hockey organization
For Phil and Val Makrogiannis, having their three children in the San Diego Jr. Gulls youth program has been a home away from home, as well as a second family.
The oldest, Niko, has been playing ice hockey for seven years, starting in the Learn to Skate program and progressing to his most recent season playing as a defenseman for the Pee Wee 12U AA1 team coached by Greg Pruden and Geoff Leibl. He will be entering next season as a first-year Bantam.
Twins Theo and Ana entered the Jr. Gulls program at different ages.
Theo, a defenseman, just finished his fourth season as a Jr. Gull on the Squirt 12U A team coached by Randy Moy. His previous season, he played on the Squirt B team that won a CAHA state championship in the Squirt 10U B division.
Ana joined the hockey world two years ago and is a goaltender. A travel soccer player for six seasons, she went with her brothers one winter to an ice hockey tournament in Mammoth and played pond hockey in boots, as a goalie, and was hooked. Ana finished her first season playing in net for both the Jr. Gulls’ boys Squirt 10U B team coached by Reed Kinsey and on the Jr. Gulls’ girls 10U team coached by Blake Bolden.
“Seven years ago, our first kid came to us as said, ‘I want to play ice hockey,’ and we had to Google where we could play ice hockey in San Diego,” said Val Makrogiannis, who has also been a team manager the last five seasons. “This led us to the San Diego Jr. Gulls program where we started out doing the Learn to Play program and very quickly discovered that the Jr. Gulls program was very kid- and family-oriented. Every time we stepped into the rink, the Jr. Gulls staff greeted us, remembered our children’s names, and always had a fun and encouraging word to every player which, in those younger years, makes such a positive lasting impression on young kids. It makes it a place they want to spend their time.
“It also creates a family-oriented, friendly environment where parents as well feel comfortable sending their kids and spending their time.”
“We initially were attracted to the Jr. Gulls program because it offered a positive teaching environment for our young players,” added Phil Makrogiannis. “Coaches stressed development and fun. Our players participated in practices and games and they wanted more because the coaches took the time to get to know each player individually and stressed that learning and developing was more important than anything else.
“We stay with the Jr. Gulls program because as our players have progressed in the program to higher levels of competition, there continues to be a genuine interest in developing our players who now have specific strengths and positions. They really focus on making sure the players’ skills are developed so whatever the goal of the player, they are met with the optimal amount of structure, instruction, encouragement and development to help our player get to their next level.”
All three Makrogiannis kids are enamored with the Jr. Gulls as well.
“One of the best things about the Jr. Gulls club is all the coaches are amazing,” said Ana. “They are all nice, respectful and care about me improving as a player. They also just care about me as a person. It is awesome being in the same club as my brothers because hockey is a family sport. I get to play with my brothers, they cheer me on and help teach me things. I also get to cheer them on. Everyone at the club knows us as the ‘Makro Kids’ and everyone is nice and encouraging to us. And we love being encouraging to other players and other families because everyone at the club loves hockey and loves family.”
“The kids in the Jr. Gulls club are great and we are all friends,” noted Theo. “The coaches are great teachers and we get a lot of ice time. I can go to the club every day if I want and be able to play on my own team or with coaches or clinics or just with my Jr. Gulls friends. I really like playing with my brother and sister. All the families in the club really care about each other and you can tell because all the kids are nice, and families are all nice, too. Everyone at the club cares about each other.”
“What I like most about playing with the Jr. Gulls is the great experiences of being coached by professional coaches, playing with top players, playing competitive games with my team, traveling to tournaments and becoming a better player every year,” added Niko. “I really appreciate all the extra time the Jr. Gulls coaches put into me as a player so that I can become a better player. Playing with my brother and sister is awesome because I love watching them learn and be successful. The three of us love the same sport and that means a lot to me because we’ll always have that one awesome thing in common. It is also something every family and every player at the club has in common. We love our families, we love hockey, and we love the Jr. Gulls club.”
Other fantastic and committed families in the Jr. Gulls program include Kaden (14U AA) and Brecken (12U) Armstrong, Kai (14U AA) and Reese (16U) Gowen, Jillian (12U A) and Lydia (12U/14U girls) McLaughlin, Colton (16U AA) and Ryanne (12U/14U girls) Marcy, Patrick (16U AA) and Brogan (14U AA girls) Gallavan, Destiny (14U AA girls) and Isaiah (12U) Provencio, Morgan (14U AA girls) and Kaylee (12U/14U girls) Cadez, Maya (19U girls) and Emma (14U AA girls) Tasevski, Tiffany (19U girls) and Tonya (19U girls) Anderson, Emma (10U girls) and Alexis (10U girls) Singleton, Kaelyn (10U girls) and Sydney (10U girls) Walters, Alexander (12U AA) and Kat (10U girls) Dooris, Andrew (12U AA) and Sydney (10U girls) Smeltzer, Jacob (14U), Kevin (12U) and Cody (12U) Betsch and Kyle (16U AA), Tori (14U AA girls) and Tommy (12U A) Fraser.
“The Jr. Gulls program and all its staff, coaches and all the participating families is a family for us, and every family we have encountered will tell you the same thing,” said Phil. “The families in the club are all bonded by the love for the game, the love of our children, the loyalty for the club, and the friendships we have created with the families. We have thoroughly enjoyed all our fun moments of watching, traveling, hanging out, interacting with the Jr. Gulls program and all the families.”
And as a team manager, Val says that role was something that was meant for her.
“I have been a team manager for the last five years, and I do it because I love the planning and caring for a team and the families,” said Val. “I love sports. Being a manager allows me a special opportunity to stay connected to athletics and do what I love most, which is supporting and watching my kids play a sport they love. I also thrive in organization and planning, which you need to be able to get everyone where they need to be and on time.
“What keeps me coming back for more is that I have been lucky to have Jr. Gulls teams with great coaches and amazing families. Most recently, I managed the Jr. Gulls’ 12U AA1 team. During the season, we spent eight months together – practicing three times per week, games every weekend, traveling all over the state of California and twice to Canada. The players and families are always appreciative and thankful for all I do for the team. Great kids, great families – that’s why I manage and will continue to do so.”
On the ice, the Makrogiannis has seen their game taken to new levels since each of them found their passion for hockey.
“The Jr. Gulls provides me lots of practices with my own team, but they also give me the opportunity to practice with other teams because I want to get more ice time and improve,” Ana said. “Being able to practice on other teams gives me more instruction, more ice time and I also get to play with other players and coaches, all which make me a better player.”
“I have gotten faster, and my skills have all improved because I can skate all the time,” Theo said. “My coach does a great job teaching me the game. I also like that as I get older and get placed on more competitive teams, my coaches teach me more and all that teaching makes me become a better player every year.”
“I started playing hockey in the Learn to Skate program, improving every day all the way up to AA hockey all because my coaches all cared about my development, they committed a lot of their time to me and because I worked really hard every day they also worked hard with me to get me to where I am today,” Niko said “I also know that they will be there with me every day going forward helping me to achieve whatever level of hockey I want to achieve in the future.”
Both Phil and Val agreed that the Jr. Gulls coaches and administrators are the main reason the family is committed to the Jr. Gulls, naming club president and coach Geoff Leibl and hockey director and coach Craig Carlyle, as well as coaches Noah Babin, Raf Rodriguez, Jonah Munholland, Pruden, Moy and Kinsey as positive influences.
“From Day 1 at the Learn to Skate program all the way through to our current experience playing Tier hockey, every day we are greeted and supported by coaches that truly care about our kids,” said Phil. “We have experienced almost all the coaches one way or the other during our six years in the program. The administration is 100 percent committed to the families of the club. Our registrar, Tori Riley, is the heart to the club, knowing every family and being there for every question throughout the year.”
“They have each in their own valuable way taught our kids something important in the game of hockey,” Val said. “Each person is committed and so generous with their time and knowledge, love for the game and that translates into their fun, positive teaching.”
When asked how long the Makrogiannis family will play for the Jr. Gulls, Phil said, “the Jr. Gulls program is our home.”
“It is a place where my kids feel at home. Our kids want to play hockey for as long as they can, whatever that ends up by being for each kid. The program every year offers great opportunities for advancement for our players. The club has amazing coaches, our kids are learning, having fun, being challenged and progressing as players and for those reasons, the Jr. Gulls program will remain our home.”
Above left photo/Kelly Newell
— Matt Mackinder
(June 18, 2019)