Dan Gates provides opportunities for low-income youth to play hockey.
When the economy crashed in 2008, families found cheaper alternatives to keep their kids busy in sports, and hockey was one of the first to go.
Here in Athens, Dan Gates, president of the Athens Youth Hockey Association, has been showing his resourcefulness in helping kids have the opportunity to skate no matter their financial situation. The association consists of just fewer than 100 kids within the eight age levels of hockey teams, including the Athens High School hockey team.
“Our motto is, ‘A kid on ice is a kid out of hot water,’” Gates said. “They have so much passion, you just have to give them the tools and the opportunity.”
This year, the association is celebrating its 50th anniversary, with Gates contributing to a good 20 years of that. With this being his last year, as his youngest son graduates high school, his connections and fundraising will continue.
Ginger Schmalenberg, grant writer and promotion fundraiser for AYHA, said Gates kept the whole liaison with OU hockey. He kept the program together and helped the community.
The Columbus Blue Jackets donate about $8,000-$10,000 every year to the program and it has about 30 sets of equipment through this money for those who need it.
Gates’ relationship with the Blue Jackets dates back to 1998 when he worked for The Columbus Dispatch.
With this partnership, the Athens Mite team (6- to 8-year-olds) play during intermission every year. These little kids skate at Nationwide Arena, the hockey rink the Blue Jackets call home.
Gates said he brought the non-profit status back into the association in 2000 as other donations and grants contributed to the program in helping hockey players financially.
“We call them ‘playerships,’” Gates said. “Just recently, the association had a fundraising event with past alumni and their help to purchase new jerseys for the players. We raise about $15,000-$20,000 a year.”
In cities like Columbus, where hockey is ever present (the area has 12 hockey rinks), the AYHA explores its resources to draw players in and thrive.
“Especially in Appalachia, we don’t have any big corporations. Our teams are the underdog compared to teams in Columbus,” Schmalenberg said. “But, they always pull out. It’s all about heart. We’re trying to fuel this program.”
During Gates’ years as president, families from the program are the only ones assisted. The teams give back to the community by handing out treats during the Veteran’s Day parade and helping out families of veterans in Virginia and Chillicothe.
“We’ve raised a lot of money, filled up a lot of hotel rooms. We’re an economic engine in this town. We bring all these teams all over the Midwest. If it wasn’t for our partnership at Bird Arena, and our ability to help them financially also, players would have to pay $2,350 instead of $1,350, and that’s considered cheap.”