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Summer Cats Playoffs a fun experience for area youth

by Kyle Morrison / Florida Panthers

Nothing quite like the sight of hockey on the BB&T Center bowl, but for Wednesday’s Street Cats Playoffs, it looked a little bit different.

No ice. Three rinks. Hundreds of screaming kids.

By the end, three championship teams had been crowned. Local Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCA branches competed for Summer Cats championships in Mites, Peewee and Squirts age groups.

“This is a very different experience,” said Derek Carter, coach of the Florence DeGeorge Boys and Girls Club team that took home the trophy in the Peewee division. “It’s been an eye opener, to introduce the kids to this and watch them grasp it."

Carter admits that he’s a football and track guy, generally speaking, so the game is brand new to him, too. That made the trek to the title even more exciting – or, nerve-wracking – and the reward mean so much more.

“I’m used to possessions and knowing you’ve definitely got the win in the last few seconds,” he said. “Hockey’s crazy. But I was so excited for the kids, and I’m very proud of them.

“I’m kind of speechless because our kids, they come from different sports backgrounds, but it’s exciting for me to see them get excited to play hockey like this."

The Summer Cats series of clinics has been a huge hit among the Boys and Girls Clubs across Broward County this summer, according to their President and CEO Brian Quail. Many of the kids hadn’t even picked up a stick before – and didn’t know how to at the start – but they took to it with unbridled enthusiasm and a keen interest.

“It’s been truly a huge, huge hit among the kids,” said Quail. “When the kids come the the clubs, they’re looking to learn about a sport which we all watch on TV, but it’s another thing to really understand it."

Today’s Summer Cats program also has a pretty cool tie-in with the upcoming Learn To Play program. Three scholarships will be given out to the day’s MVPs – one each form the Mite, Squirt and Peewee divisions – that covers a full set of equipment, eight weeks of a Learn To Skate program and eight more weeks of a Learn To Play program at a local rink of their choice.

The Summer Cats program has been very popular at the individual clubs across the county, but having the playoffs at the BB&T Center made things extra meaningful for the kids. According to Quail, 64% of the children from the local clubs come from single-parent households and 81% are on free or reduced lunch programs at school. With those numbers in mind, Quail says that the program made kids want to come to their clubs, and that’s a big deal.

While the program was very popular at the clubs, the opportunity to play the game at an NHL arena – with their friends cheering along – made an incredible impression on many of these kids.

“It’s extremely important and it gives the kids a sense of belonging,” said Quail. “We can’t thank the Panthers enough for the great work they’re doing with us."

For Panthers Manager of Youth Hockey Matt Janusz, though, the Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCAs were the true stars of the day.

“It was incredible, the Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCAs did an amazing job putting this program together,” he said. “We can offer the equipment, ideas and structure, but they’re the feet on the ground."

“They’re the ones who make it happen, they came out here super excited and brought a bunch of kids."

Janusz says that today’s session had more than 500 attendees – kids, staff and parents – with some camps even asking to bring their entire groups. But this is just the start.

“Next year can hopefully be bigger and better than this year,” said Janusz.
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