Sooke Thunderbirds (white jersey) chase down a Peninsula Eagles’ player during a Bantam A game at SEAPARC Arena on Sunday. Sooke won the game 5-4. (Bruce Hogarth)

Sooke Thunderbirds (white jersey) chase down a Peninsula Eagles’ player during a Bantam A game at SEAPARC Arena on Sunday. Sooke won the game 5-4. (Bruce Hogarth)

Minor hockey president optimistic about sport’s future growth in Sooke

‘We really want to draw in the younger kids – that’s our future’

Despite a dip in player registration over the last few years, the new president of Sooke Minor Hockey is optimistic about the association’s future.

“It’s the start of the season – everybody is excited,” Les Lewco said.

So far, 200 children have registered for minor hockey in Sooke with several players at the initiation, novice, atom and pee wee levels.

The association is expected to ice an atom, pee wee and bantam rep teams and several house teams, from pee wee to midget.

And there’s a push by the association’s new executive board to increase youth participation in the sport.

“My vision is have a program that is the envy of other associations,” Lewco said. “My goal is to build the registration up to the level where we can have two or three teams in each division.”

It won’t be easy.

Hockey Canada says registration numbers have shown a modest decrease across the country. Hockey has fallen behind soccer and swimming in terms of youth participation.

The advantages that basketball and soccer have leveraged shine an important light on a bigger question than just participation in hockey: Canada is facing a bit of a sport participation crisis in general, and it’s particularly notable with children under the age of 13.

There are several root causes. They include the possibility of injury and cost – likely hockey’s biggest challenge.

But Lewco isn’t swayed.

He said he’ll look to the grassroots to improve participation numbers, with more exposure in the community, visits to schools, and the idea of making hockey fun.

The association is also planning to host sessions where kids can come out and play for free to try the sport. That will likely occur toward the end of the season.

Lewco said if more youth participate in the sport, he hopes to keep registration fees low, although Sooke registration fees are among the lowest in the region.

“We want to create an active place where kids can go spend six months of the year and have a great time, make friends, and learn a sport for life,” he said.

“We really want to draw in the younger kids – that’s our future.”

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