Launching a new educational hockey program amidst a global pandemic might not be ideal, but that’s the situation facing the Global Sport Academy Group as they work to kickoff their new Prince Albert program this fall.
The program allows hockey players to earn credits while training during part of the day and attending regular school programming for the rest. The concept, which has had success in Alberta, is “designed to support the goals and dreams of student-athletes while having them earn academic credits,” the program said in a press release issued in February. It’s the first of its kind in Saskatchewan.
“It allows athletes to be able to, during their day, pursue their passion in sport,” said Mark Maloney, the CEO of Global Sport Academy Group.
“The program is integrated into the timetable for the athletes, and Global becomes one course-option for the athletes.”
The vision for Prince Albert is to grow the program down the road to offer other sports and potentially even arts programs.
The program was originally hoping to open with two courses of about 15-20 students each, one for girls’ and boys’ hockey. Uncertainty surrounding the return-to-classroom plan and COVID-19 have changed what Global Hockey Academy will look like come September.
“We pivoted and adapted to what we thought was going to happen, and did, with COVID-19,” said Dustin Taylor, an area manager with Global Hockey Academy.
“We’ve made one mixed group and we’re at just under 20 (students). I would expect we would get a few more as we get closer to school as well. We‘ll get north of that 20 number for sure.”
The biggest questions, Taylor said, revolve around not just the return to school but also minor hockey’s plan for the fall.
“Those are the two biggest factors in how (families) are going to make their decision.”
While some clarity surrounding back to school procedures was provided this week, there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding hockey’s return.
Tryouts and practices are allowed to begin, but there’s no timeline for when games can be played, according to the latest announcement from the Saskatchewan Hockey Association.
“It’s going to take a little bit more time for public authorities to really have a clear understanding of what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it,” Taylor said.
The other obstacle Global Sport Academy is facing is unfamiliarity.
“With us being new to the community, there is a lot of uncertainty to who we are. It’s going to take a bit of time to really introduce ourselves and get to know everyone in the sport market.”
That challenge, though, isn’t new for Global Sport, which has a growing presence in Alberta.
The reception, so far, has been a good one.
“A lot of excitement and a lot of questions. There’s been a lot of good traction,” Taylor said.
“We’ve had a lot of inquiries in terms of local families and even in the extended area a bit who are very interested. Our registration … is a lot higher than we expected in light of the pandemic. The overall feeling and what we’ve experienced is there is a lot of excitement.”
Aside from the uncertainty COVID-19 brings, it’s had little effect on Global Sport. They’re complying with all provincial and local regulations both at the school and at the Art Hauser Centre, which will be the on-ice home for the program.
“We want to make sure we’re above board on all levels,” Taylor said.
“We want to make sure we’re part of the solution.”
COVID guidelines will lead to increased hygiene both in getting ready for ice time and in returning to the classroom.
“It’s not that big of a change,” Taylor said. “There are just a few things that are going to be new that people are going to have to adapt to.”
As for the school day, the sport academy will be considered another block option within Carlton’s schedule. Their school schedule will fit in and be accommodated around their Global Sport Academy times.
Despite the roller-coaster of the last few months, Taylor is excited about launching the program, the first for Global Sport outside of Alberta.
“Saskatchewan is such a great place to expand into in terms of hockey and passion. Whenever you go to Saskatchewan, hockey is always a big topic of discussion,” he said.
“We’ve been welcomed with open arts. It’s been a very humbling experience and it helps us as a business to understand what nuances we need to have in place as we continue to expand. We’re very excited.”