By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News
There’s been an incredible evolution to Coaldale REC Hockey over the years, said organizer Cheryl Neufeld. And, she added, the hockey program has kept going and going and the demand has been incredible too based on the type of hockey atmosphere and environment provided for numerous kids from southern Alberta. At least, up until recently, as Coaldale Minor Hockey has taken over rec hockey in the Lethbridge County community.
“Our numbers have consistently increased. There’s other ice users at that rink. For only having three hours of ice for the last 28 years, we were able to provide an awful lot of magic one hour at a time for numerous kids of all skills, levels and abilities,” she noted.
For all intensive purposes, Tony Deys from the Coaldale REC Hockey camp added, Coaldale Minor Hockey has taken it over — for better or worse.
“Nothing against minor hockey — but it’s not rec hockey, it’s minor hockey. Can they do the job? Probably. Can they do it as good as Coaldale REC Hockey did for the last 28 years? We’ll see,” he said.
The Town of Coaldale, Neufeld explained, needed to revise policies for numerous years. “We officially and in writing requested what can we do to get one more hour of ice? What can we do to get 15 minutes prior to an existing ice time just to get the ice cleaned and to avoid potential conflict? Unfortunately, it’s always fallen on deaf years. I would have to say, in the last dozen years, I’ve been a consistent person that has attended all of the ice-user meetings facilitated by previous community services and the town,” she said, adding the process has been both a struggle and political.
“Some of the outcomes I absolutely was completely blindsided and unexpected,” Neufeld said.
Last year in August, Deys said, the town had apparently passed an ice-users policy that set out the cost for profit versus non-profit and resident versus non-resident.
“That was passed and it was supposed to be a two-year thing. We were under the assumption, we had one more year and we would pay for-profit rates and we would pay for everything we needed to but we had one more year to get our ducks in a row. The timeline was moved up, according to the community services manager, when I asked her why the timeline was moved, why we didn’t have an extra year to get all our stuff together, she said it was based on past relationships or lack thereof with Coaldale REC Hockey that they didn’t see a road forward, which made it personal more than everything,” said Deys, and the town put out a Request For Interest or RFI.
In April, the Town of Coaldale issued an RFI for Coaldale Youth Recreation Hockey with a submission deadline of May 13. According to a report submitted to town council for consideration, the town invited proposals for a local youth-based recreational hockey league in Coaldale. It was stated in the report, all interested parties were invited to submit a proposal based on the requirements laid out by the town. It was also stated, the town was seeking a non-profit organization to operate a local youth recreational hockey league in Coaldale within a three-hour ice allotment per week during the ice season and without having the added pressure of competition, travel and high registration fees.
According to the report submitted to town council for consideration, the proposal from various community groups needed to include a general overview of the proposed league philosophy as it pertains to youth sport, description of how the league will give back to the community and its participants, and proof of non-profit or society status as defined by Service Alberta. The mandatory requirements included for Year One a minimum 60 per cent residency rate of Coaldale and Lethbridge County participants.
“Coaldale REC Hockey should have sent in an RFI. We didn’t, so council went ahead and gave it to Coaldale Minor hockey. However, we did ask for an extension a few days before the deadline, because again, we were at a bit of a disadvantage in regards to what we had to do,” added Deys.
With the RFI, Neufeld added, she had absolutely no idea or anticipated the town was going to contract out youth rec hockey sport.
“When they outlined all the criteria and guidelines. It absolutely, in writing, the recipe is the opposite of everything we do and what we do successfully,” Neufeld said.
She said she was really stricken by the residency demands. “Coaldale REC Hockey was started from gentleman that were from Lethbridge County and it was for kids that didn’t want to be involved with minor hockey and they came from all over the different communities. That’s the foundation of it,” she said. Many players and their families outside of Coaldale registered in Coaldale REC Hockey would visit the town and spend money inside of the town too.
The RFI that came out, Deys added, was tailored to everything minor hockey already was.
“The parameters set out, minor hockey already fit into all of those. The non-profit,” he said, and minor hockey could have written a proposal easily and quickly because of already fitting those parameters.
Neufeld noted, it was stated at a town council meeting, council received over 80 letters and close to 50 phone calls in regards to support for Coaldale REC Hockey.
“That should say something? Apparently not,” she said.
According to Neufeld, she is thankful and very proud for being instrumental in making over 1,000 kids’ hockey dreams and positive experiences come true. “It has been such a rewarding volunteer investment of countless hours, months and years. Coaldale REC Hockey has been my passion for over a decade — the dreams and ideas never stopped flowing for my hockey kids year round. I loved every minute of it. There have been a mountain of successes for so many of our hockey players — every one of them were stars the moment they entered the rink, long before they put on their equipment and hit the ice. I have been told over and over, they felt like it too,” she said, adding the hugs proved it.
According to Coaldale Mayor Kim Craig, by missing the deadline Coaldale REC Hockey did not meet the RFI process guidelines established by council, which established the need for non-profit status. The RFI was announced to all ice-user groups and specifically to Coaldale REC Hockey.
As for all the letters of support from parents and community members, Craig added, the letters would have been great if the letters would have been included with a proper response to the RFI within the prescribed deadline. “It was both disappointing and surprising no one from Coaldale REC Hockey submitted a proposal,” said Craig.
By choosing not to participate in the RFI process and the prime-time ice guidelines established by council, Craig noted, Coaldale REC Hockey made the choice to discontinue its program on behalf of its supporters.
“This is much like the town asking contractors to bid on a project and each contractor makes their decision to either spend the time to make a submission or not. If a contractor does not submit a bid, they would not expect to be awarded the project,” Craig said. The majority of council, Craig explained, felt it was important to operate within the parameters established under the RFI process and did not believe it would have been fair to extend the deadline when one group worked hard to make its submission on time.
Craig also noted the Pond Hockey program is Coaldale Minor Hockey’s platform to recreational hockey programming. “Coaldale Minor Hockey has a long history youth sport development — with a recreational Pond Hockey League, they are diversifying their service and approach to youth sport,” said Craig.
Craig added the prime-time ice allocation held by Coaldale REC Hockey will continue to be used exclusively for recreational hockey and will not be encroached upon by other minor hockey programs. “The only difference between what’s happening now than before is recreational hockey will have a different operator that has a minimum residency rate of 60 per cent and is operated by a non-profit society. Fundamentally, the programming will be similar to what was offered before,” according to Mayor Craig.