Pandora’s Hockey Locker

Learn-to-skate program paves the way for participation in an expensive sport

LUDWIG@HOME by Howard LudwigMy four-year-old son struggles to write the letter “B.” He can’t tie his shoes. He’s not good at wiping his butt either. Yet, I’m expecting him to learn to ice skate in December.

I enrolled Bubba in the learn-to-skate program last month. It cost $85 for the weekly lessons that run from Sat., Dec. 11 through Sat., Feb. 12. The 90-minute instructional classes are taught on the park district’s outdoor ice rink.

I played hockey in middle school and a couple years in high school. I wasn’t very good. I didn’t score a goal in six years on the ice. Yet, I have fond memories of the sport. I remember seeing my coach escorted out of the building in handcuffs after an on-ice scuffle. I also vividly recall dislocating my shoulder.

Naturally, I wanted to get my son involved in hockey as soon as possible. However, I’ve never met a hockey parent that hasn’t at least mentioned the high cost of the sport.

As the saying goes, anyone can practice football, soccer or basketball in the backyard for free. But unless you have a frozen pond nearby, hockey is a pay-to-play sport.

There’s also the matter of hockey gear. Bubba needs ice skates, a stick, elbow pads, knee pads and a helmet for his learn-to-skate league. How expensive could that be?

Bubba is ready to skate

I went to Play It Again Sports to find out. Turns out, Bubba’s hockey gear was going to run about $220. That’s a rough estimate from the salesman who said not everything Bubba needs is available gently used. Extra small helmets and tiny skates are apparently hard to come by in the secondhand market.

I couldn’t help but think of all the other things I could do with that money. New patio furniture comes to mind. As does putting a $220 dent into the Ludwig family credit card balance.

Luckily, a sponsorship opportunity fell into my lap. Papa (a.k.a. my dad) also has fond memories of hockey and was willing to help outfit his namesake grandson with the necessary gear.

It’s a generous gift. But let’s say Bubba falls in love with hockey. I can’t expect his grandparents to foot the bill for the next 15 years. And ice hockey leagues only get more expensive as the players improve, or so I’m told.

My neighbor has three grown sons who all play ice hockey. As it happens, they learned to skate at the park district too. He praised the kiddie skating program, saying most kids begin by pushing folding chairs down the ice to help them keep their balance.

The next step is usually a house league. Several area ice rinks have teams with kids of the same age and skill set. These teams usually practice once a week and play each other at least once on the weekends. Estimated annual cost is $1,200 per player, my neighbor warned.

The best hockey players from the house leagues are then invited to tryout for the travel team. Here competition is ramped up. There’s more practice, more games and more visiting far away ice rinks. Estimated annual cost (gulp) $2,500, he said.

His boys also attend a private high school. The tuition alone is enough to off scare most parents, but tack on $3,000 per year if your child also decides to play hockey, he said.

For that kind of money, I might be better off to dig a pond… or just roll out a soccer ball.

I also played youth soccer. Never scored a goal there either.

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