Just because it's the off-season doesn't mean there's not hockey going on in Central Ohio. From June to August, the Blue Jackets Summer Takeover program put sticks in the hands of over 2,000 children in the capital city, while teaching them the game of hockey along with life skills that will last for summers to come.
The Blue Jackets have always gone out into the community to share their sport and bring the benefits of respect and team work to local children; but, with interest and support growing for the team, more and more groups were coming to the team asking how they could teach the hockey to the kids they were working with.
"The feedback was that kids are really excited about the sport and about the Blue Jackets but educators didn't know how to teach it," Andee Boiman, Director of Fan Development & Community Programs, said. "We saw that as a barrier. We created an interactive, traveling hockey demonstration. All a kid needed was a pair of sneakers and we would bring everything else. We would bring the sticks, balls, nets and knowledge."
In short order, Boiman and her team created an hour-long program that was easy to transport to any location, easy to execute, and easy to replicate. With two Jackets employees running each session, the team put together a summer schedule of 42 sessions that visited over 25 different Columbus summer camps.
Armed with enough sticks for every child in attendance, the Fan Development team shared the history of the Blue Jackets, explained the meaning of the team's logo, and led the group through three hockey drills that covered the basics of stick handling, passing, and shooting.
"We touched on the importance of teamwork," Boiman said. "And how if you want to be an athlete you have to be respectful not only to your coaches, but also your teammates, and we shared some ways to do that - listening, being a good passer, being a good teammate."
Simplicity was the key to making hockey as accessible as possible because the Summer Takeover team found themselves teaching kids ball hockey in school gyms, on blacktop surfaces and even in gravel parking lots.
"We made it as simple as possible to break down that fear barrier you sometimes have when you're trying something new," Boiman said. "We put kids through a relay race, then a passing drill. We really incorporated listening skills and being a good teammate throughout."
Every Takeover experience ended with an appearance from Jackets' mascot, Stinger, and some giveaways to remind kids to be active. And as more and more kids showed up to their camps in Jackets hats and t-shirts, some even bringing their own hockey sticks, you could see the Jackets brand and the sport of hockey growing stronger and stronger.
"We put everything we did into a curriculum," Boiman said. "People may have been hesitant at first, but a lot of the counselors and camp leaders we were working with said 'this is amazing and I can now teach this with my other camps.'
"That's what we were trying to do, break down that barrier we hear all the time of 'I love the Blue Jackets, my kids love hockey but I don't know how to teach it.'"
The Summer Takeover program was so successful Boiman says her team is already planning to bring it back next year; hopefully with the ability to accept requests from groups online to grow the program's reach.
"We knew we'd be able to see an audience that had probably never picked up a stick before," Boiman said. "But this program gave us an opportunity to show how great this sport is and that hockey really is for everyone. That is what Summer Takeover is all about."
You can find more information about the Summer Takeover program here.