San Diego District League opens more doors
For nearly a decade, the high school game has become increasingly entrenched in the fabric of California’s hockey community.
Organizations such as the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings have started their own leagues with the goal of providing further platforms for players to enjoy the game outside of the traditional club route.
To bring in newcomers, however, many believe much more can be done. The San Diego District Hockey League is attempting to appeal to those first-timers through a range of options geared towards allowing peer groups to give the game a test drive and enjoy it together.
“At this age, that’s what’s more important to these kids – their friends,” league coordinator Jason Coker said. “When kids enter their teenage years, that’s when new sports get introduced, and what really draws kids in is if their friends are there playing alongside them.”
The three-year-old league also focuses on making hockey affordable. It offers programs allowing new players to try hockey for free, and inline hockey is available for those who need to become stronger skaters.
Coker says the league has been making a strong push in local high schools, enlisting kids who’ve played at the AA and AAA levels to campaign through club rush events in an effort to attract new members.
He added that it’s tough for the recreational player to relate to those involved in the travel game, but by having the experienced players help the newer ones, they hope to close the gap.
“It’s an opportunity for hockey-playing peers to introduce others to the sport they love,” Coker said of creating clubs at the local high schools. “It’s a great transition bringing them in, playing inline hockey, getting them comfortable with the game, and then a few of them move over to ice hockey.”
Ultimately, the league hopes its peer-friendly model will breed a wealth of Pure high school teams in which players are rostered from a single school.
The San Diego District Hockey League is composed of five sections defined by the school district boundaries. Competition is carried out in an inter-district format. The league offers five divisions, from the 8U level to varsity.
Coker and company are nothing short of creative and resourceful when it comes to growing of the game. An example? They’ve introduced a non-checking, junior varsity level for high school-aged students who want to learn the sport.
“They love it,” Coker said. “It gives them an opportunity to play in an environment where there’s no hitting and obviously lesser change of injury. They try it out, and then some of them move up to varsity.”
Coker added that the junior varsity division doesn’t just benefit first-time players.
“It’s interesting because it’s brought kids back into hockey who couldn’t play anymore because they couldn’t afford another concussion,” he said. “They come back and play junior varsity – really good players.
“To have that caliber of players in non-contact and to expose the new kids to that level of play, it just makes (the league) better and helps it grow even more.”
The San Diego District League tries to foster an environment that allows its players – past and present – to fall in love with the game. Todd Wojnicki, who coaches ice hockey in the league, has seen his son, Cameron, remain involved with the organization after his playing days.
Cameron earned his first win behind the bench in a junior high game recently. Todd’s team was on the losing end of the score, and he said he received a fair deal of “friendly ribbing” from Cameron about the outcome that weekend.
Todd, whose oldest son, Jake, is referee, says it’s very rewarding to see his kids remain involved in the game.
“I think it speaks to what the program is all about,” Wojnicki said of the league. “I think it just breeds a responsibility to the program and to each other.”
– Andrew Turner