Marcus Wong says that without hockey during the COVID-19 pandemic, he was bored to lose his mind.
The 10-year-old and his brother Matthew, 12, have each been on the ice since they were around four years old and have discovered that their teammates and coaches have become like family.
This is something their father, Richard Wong, also felt.
âHockey has given my family so much,â he said.
Wong says he’s always been a huge hockey fan, but it wasn’t something his parents wanted to sign him up for.
“My parents were immigrants and had different priorities, trying to get food on the table.”
He says he’s grateful that he was able to give his sons the opportunity to experience it – and the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) hopes to see more families feeling that way.
The OMHA, which represents 225 minor hockey associations across the province, this week launched a campaign called ‘Stronger,’ with the aim of increasing enrollment in sport. The association says hockey registrations have stagnated over the past five years due to several factors, including costs, which the OMHA is trying to address.
The campaign also highlights the mental health impact of losing organized sports on children during the pandemic and the benefits of being part of the hockey community. People who advocate making play more inclusive say it’s a good opportunity to tackle obstacles that can make play difficult for children.
In a statement, the OMHA said she realizes that she can no longer take it for granted that people are just going to show up for hockey, as they have in the past, if she wants the hockey remains one of the most popular sports in Canada – especially after a pandemic.
âWe’ve never had to market the game to children in Ontario before, but we recognize that it’s no longer a given that kids are going to play hockey,â said Ian Taylor, CEO of the OMHA.
Taylor said many minor hockey associations offer ways to help young people get into the game, including the ability to play once a week and provide equipment for families in need of financial assistance. .
WATCH | CBC’s Talia Ricci reports on the Ontario Minor Hockey Association’s new campaign:
âWe are also trying to reduce costs through testing programs,â Taylor added.
This involves giving players the opportunity to try the sport for six weeks before fully committing the time and money. He says outside of the sport itself, he wants parents to consider the mental health benefits of physical activity and feel like part of a team.
“Hockey is a game for everyone and it’s something we want to communicate.”
Building bridges in diverse communities
Moezine Hasham is the CEO and Founder of Hockey 4 Youth, a charity that offers new young Canadians the opportunity to play ice hockey for free. Hasham said he was interested to see the results of the campaign.
âAnytime a sports organization is ready to raise awareness and start a movement, I think it’s important,â he said. But as someone who has helped young people from 32 different countries play the sport, he said, he also understands how difficult it can be.
âBeyond financial barriers, there could be cultural barriers, gender barriers, transportation and accessibility barriers,â he said.
Hockey 4 Youth takes players out on the ice once a week for about five months and teaches them how to skate and play. It started in 2015 as a pilot program and has since expanded to several programs in different cities.
“What we are doing is using sport to promote social inclusion,” Hasham said, adding that this involves going to high schools and talking to children, among other measures, which he hopes to see. also be reflected in minor hockey.
The OMHA said registration is happening now and the plan is for hockey to start again when the kids return to school in September.
Matthew said he was looking forward to it.
“I think what I look forward to the most is to see my friends again.”