Recently, the Lakers Squirt A ventured to Pittsburgh to play in a hockey tournament. The benefit of a good tournament is immeasurable to a young team. In the white-hot crucible of pressure created by having a large number of games in a short period of time, kids learn to play together, fight through illness and injury, and give everything they have for their teammates. Given also that our competition would be several tiers above where we had been playing, we hoped that the tournament would expose our kids new levels of play, ultimately improving our squad.
If you have never had the chance to experience an arena hosting a youth hockey tournament, allow me to paint the picture for you. Take the insanity of a college dorm on a Friday night, shrink the people, remove the alcohol and replace it with mini-sticks, balls and a variety of Nerf guns. Then, give the alcohol to the participants’ parents who are desperately trying to justify the spending of hundreds of dollars on a weekend to sit inside a chilly rink and turn a formerly lovely hotel room into a large drying rack for smelly hockey gear.
When I was young and playing the game, nothing was better than missing school on a Friday to play in a tournament. As an adult in the field of education, I felt concern over not only pulling my own son out of class, but coaching a team that requires a large number of students to take an unexcused absence. After our weekend in Pittsburgh, I no longer feel this way as I realized the life lessons learned by new experiences outweigh those covered in most classrooms that day.
Our division had us playing against two teams from the Toronto area, one of which was almost entirely made up of Jewish players. If you are unfamiliar with Jamestown, NY and the surrounding area from which we draw our players, we are not the most cosmopolitan of areas. Unless there is an underground movement that I am unaware of (as most underground movements are), the number of Jewish people in our town can be counted using my two hands. In fact, the only synagogue I know of in the city was recently put up for sale.
Prior to the game, both Laker kids and our opposition were running around the area burning off steam built up during the several hours of travel. In the melting pot that is the lobby of the rink, the two teams played video games and tag together, all the while sizing each other up for the game to come. Our players routinely bring us scouting reports prior to the game – “they are big”, or “young,” or “misbehaved” is the data I’m accustomed to receiving from my charges during these intel gathering sessions.
On this day, however, a few of my young spies excitedly covered new ground. Running into the locker room, they yelled, “Coach, they are speaking in French!” Knowing a bit about Toronto, I told them that it was possible but unlikely that French was being spoken by a team from T.O. Instead, I remarked, the kids were probably speaking Yiddish. I explained that the Jewish faith has a millennia-old tradition of using this language and that that was most likely what our players were hearing. What followed were a few questions about the Jewish faith and Hanukkah. With wonder in their eyes, my players bolted the room, eager to report to their teammates that the kids we were to be playing were “Finnish.”
Laughing off my failure at cultural enlightenment, I turned my attention back to the upcoming game. A minute later, another of my players bounded in. He asked if the players on the other team celebrated with boxer briefs. Mystified, I told him that I did not think that boxer briefs had anything to do with Judaism. When I went out to our parents to relay the story, someone suggested that because we were playing Canadians, the player must have been referring to Boxing Day.
Finally, the players came in to begin preparing for the upcoming contest. One of the last to arrive raced in and was visibly excited. Hockey teams everywhere have team gear – hats, warm-ups, jackets, et cetera. My player remarked that our opponents had something new. “Coach, they have these cool little team hats.” Ah, dear player, yes, they are team hats, but not the kind of team you are thinking of. Those are yamakas. And you need to get out more.
Happy Boxer Brief Day to All!