Hockey Education Reaching Out Society (HEROS) is a Canadian based foundation whose mission is to use the game of ice hockey to teach life-skills and empower at risk youth. Founded in Vancouver, Canada in 2000, HEROS provides free ice hockey programming for at risk youth, offering a safe and stable environment for young people to succeed, experiment and connect. HEROS programs provide youth a “team for life” by celebrating in their first goal on the ice and assisting in their dreams off the ice. HEROS educates youth of all backgrounds; providing opportunities for development, scholarship and personal success while focusing on four fundamental behaviours: Respect, Listening, Discipline and Having Fun.
The programme is led in Canada by Norm Flynn and Kevin Hodges and in Belfast by Louise Little who brought the HEROS to the Island of Ireland with the assistance of the Belfast Giants 8 years ago. HEROS in Ireland is a Cross-Border / Cross-Community programme which brings together young people from several communities in an environment which helps to promote development and inclusion, as well as embracing the 4 HEROS Behaviours. There are a number of partner organisations involved in HEROS in Ireland and they include; Beyond Walls, Crosscare, Ballynafeigh Community Development Association, British Army Welfare Service, Belfast Giants and the Flying Ducks. The HEROS annual programme is conducted in two phases; the residential weekend in Glendalough, County Wicklow and a week-long ice hockey camp held in Belfast Northern Ireland.
Prior to the merger of Flyers Ice Hockey Club and the Dublin Ducks the HEROS programme was attended by members of the Ducks over a number of years. Since the two teams have merged 2015 was the first year where the Flying Ducks took part. HEROS operates under 3 levels; Junior HERO, Senior HERO and Leaders. This year the Flying Ducks were fortunate to send forward a total of 11 people; 2 Leaders, 1 Senior HERO and 8 Junior HEROS.
On a weekend in June the groups from Belfast and Dublin met at The Den in Finglas where the HEROS boarded busses and coaches to Glendalough for 2 overnights in the newly refurbished Crosscare facilities. The 2 houses which would be home to the HEROS could only be described as idyllic. The HEROS were assigned rooms based on gender and age and the facilities within the houses were second to none. The HEROS got settled in on the first night and undertook initial presentations related to their expected behaviour, including their agreement to abide by their HEROS contract. The contract provided all of the HEROS and Leaders with guidance in relation to what was and was not permitted.
During the weekend the HEROS undertook a variety of activities, including Coasteering, Abseiling, Climbing, Trekking, Team Building Exercises and team challenges. The HEROS were sorted into their teams and they gained points for good behaviour and undertaking positive actions. On the other hand, points were deducted for inappropriate behaviour. We are delighted to report that the majority of the points awarded during the weekend were on the positive side.
Each evening the Leaders sat and discussed the day’s events and noted any positive and negative points of note. The HEROS undertook Reflection each evening which was very beneficial from a team building point of view.
It would be remiss of the club not to mention as special word of thanks to Crosscare for the use of the houses. The HEROS were the very first young people to use the houses since substantial decoration was undertaken. The handover of the house went very well and indeed the HEROS were complimented on the condition of the house after over 60 people had stayed for 2 nights. Before we knew it the groups were heading back to Dublin and Belfast.
In the lead up to the August Ice Hockey Camp in Belfast a number of Skype calls and Face to Face meetings took place in order to ensure that the camp went as smoothly as possible and that all knew their roles and responsibilities. This was led by Louise Little who possessed the expertise and corporate knowledge from having ran the HEROS programme for the previous 7 years. Nothing was left to chance and the traffic by email was similar to that of a small business; it all paid off.
The Flying Ducks dresses over 12 HEROS and Senior HEROS from Finglas and the Belfast Giants dressed all of the HEROS from Northern Ireland. Having each HERO dressed in advance of the camp saved valuable time in Belfast. Each HERO was handed their kit which they were solely responsible for while in Belfast.
The HEROS from Dublin travelled North to Belfast where they met up with the Belfast HEROS in Palace Barracks. Palace Barracks was to be a main feeding and activity location for the week and many thanks must be passed to the whole team in the Army Welfare Service who coordinated the entire thing. The Cooks in the Dining Hall provided superb Lunches and Dinners each days including deserts to die for. The deserts were so popular that a “sentry” had to be posted beside the deserts counter to ensure that only 1 desert was issue to each HERO. Needless to say as soon as backs were turned the deserts disappeared. A great deal of gratitude must be expressed to Officer Commanding (OC) Palace Barracks, the Dining Hall cooks and support staff, Barracks Security and the wonderful team from the Army Welfare Service.
The home of the HEROS was the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum which had 2 dormitories located centrally. The dorms were very nice and provided the HEROS with their base for activities as well as their place of rest after the long days. Each day started at 6.30am with a wake up call and then it was off to the ice rink in Dundonald for 2 ice hockey sessions per day. In total the HEROS got in 9 training sessions which was substantial. The HEROS crew from Canada provided jerseys, sticks and tape for the participants and also provided those assisting with HEROS apparel. The HEROS would get to keep the sticks and jerseys on the final day. Thanks to Norm, Kevin, Justin, Mark and Tracey for bringing the volumes of equipment over from Canada; we can only imagine the additional cost of bringing it all.
There were a number of HEROS who had skated before and they worked with the Canadian crew. The Flying Ducks Leaders (Will Fitzgerald and Sarah Barrett) provided assistance to them by preparing players for the ice and also assisting the HEROS who had yet to find their legs. Over the course of the week the level of skating ability grew and grew. Players who could not move or even stand on the ice progressed substantially to the point where they could take part in the final game on the last day.
During the week in Belfast the HEROS got to take part in Leadership challenges and firing simulation weapons in the Small Arms Trainer (SAT) Ranges. These activities provide the army with problem solving situations and also helps to develop shooting standards of the soldier. Our HEROS enjoyed every minute of it all. Thanks to the SAT Trainer and the Team at the Command Task stands. In addition to the barracks based activities the HEROS also went the Indianaland in Dundonald Ice Bowl; our ice hockey home. There were healthy eating stands, sporting stands, drumming lessons, a trip to Bangor and other activities designed to promote the ethos of HEROS. All of the HEROs undertook nightly reflection which was a great way to get to know each other even more. The HEROS were guided in all activities by their Senior HEROS and the Leaders.
One major event to take place happened on the Thursday evening when Mr. Brian Burke of the NHL Calgary Flames paid a visit to the HEROS. Mr. Burke had come to Belfast to speak at a specially convened event. “An Evening with Brian Burke” was hosted by the Irish Ice Hockey Association and the Belfast Giants as a fundraiser and awareness platform for Irish ice hockey. Mr. Burke had originally planned to travel with his family to the UK on their holidays but he was convinced by former IIHA General Secretary of the IIHA and personal friend, Mark Bowes, to visit Ireland. Mr. Burke spoke to the HEROS for a substantial time and gave then their very own “Evening With” on the ice. He spoke about respect, hard work, his career and also encouraged all present to continue to embrace the ethos of HEROS. Mr. Burke posed with the entire Flying Ducks party before heading off to the Odyssey Arena for the event. A huge thanks to Mr. Burke, the IIHA, The Belfast Giants and Mark Bowes for making this happen.
That evening the HEROS attended their last night Disco in Palace Barracks. This was a fantastic night and the laughs, dance moves and hysterics were testimony to the bond that was clearly evident in the group. Some of the Leaders had to be arrested because their dancing skills were grounds for crimes against dance. Others however, were able to put a few of the younger ones in place with their rendition of “Big Box” “Little Box” and “Stack the Shelf” to name just 2 of the moves witnessed. Luckily, none of the HEROS suffered any negative side effects of seeing the over 40’s “Drop Shapes” not seen since Wham and Kajagoogoo were in vogue.
Before we knew it the week was coming to an end and Friday was a big day. The celebration of having undergone HEROS 2015 was held in Stormont Government Buildings, a palatial building and home to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The families and friends of the HEROS were invited to attend and they were provided with a wonderful entrance procession of the HEROS followed by a presentation from the Senior HEROS. All of the HEROS received their certificates from Kevin Hodges of HEROS Canada. In addition, Norm Flynn and Louise Little spoke to those gathered about the history of the programme, the lifelong benefits and also spoke about the final game which was to take place that afternoon. Tears started to flow from the moment they arrived in Stormont and up until the time they were leaving. It was obvious that the HEROS played a huge part in their lives. Even in a short period of time the HEROS made friends for life.
The HEROS relocated to the ice rink and prepared for the game. There was a large audience in attendance and the teams then hit the ice. Before they took to the ice each player, who had been given a unique hockey name, was introduced as they skated onto the ice. The names which Justin and the coaches came up with were superb and each was tailored to each player.
The game kicked off and it was a very close one. Players who had only learnt to walk were skating well beyond that of the first day. They were cheered, applauded and had a superb time. The goals scored were celebrated by the HEROS in carefully orchestrated and rehearsed displays, some of which would be seen in the WWE ring.
At the end of the game all participants were presented with their HEROS medals as well as getting to keep their hard earned jersey and sticks which had been brought over specially for them from Canada. Once again, tears flowed, pictures were taken and kit was packed and checked for handing back to the Giants and Flying Ducks. It was sad to see the whole week come to an end but it had been worth every minute. Our HEROS represented the Flying Ducks with pride and certainly lived up to the 4 Principles.
A huge thank you must go to all of the Leaders from each of the partners North and South of the border and across the Pond. The entire Leadership crew from each of the partner groups, the staff at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, everyone at Palace Barracks, Dundonald Ice Bowl and everyone who assisted in making HEROS 2015 a huge success. The bags have long been unpacked but what is clear is that lifelong relationships and friendships have been formed. HEROS have succeeded again in bringing their wonderful programme to Ireland for another year.
A very big thank you to Sarah, Garrett, Conor, Abigail, Megan, Niamh, Mark, Paddy and Daragh for representing the Flying Ducks so well. You can all be very proud of your achievements.
Finally, thank you to Norm, Kevin, Justin, Mark and Tracey for coming all the way from Canada to deliver the HEROS programme to our children. It is greatly appreciated.
Vice President & HEROS 2015 Leader