Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Commentary: Why Shouldn’t P-Bruins Take Rhode Island Kids To School?

I will be forthright and confess that this is somewhat personal.

As a kid in grade school down in Newport County, I can recall taking field trips to a local campground, to a children’s theater in Fall River, to Roger Williams Park Zoo and to an aquarium in a town and state I cannot specifically recall.

That was all well and good, for those were all places with a certain appeal to me, as well as countless schoolmates. It sure beat the conventional, humdrum, six-to-seven hours in the classroom.

That said, even then I openly wondered “Where are the sports-related trips?” I was attentive enough at the time to notice that the Pawtucket Red Sox routinely started their Wednesday games at noon. Yet if any Rhode Island or southeastern Massachusetts schools were pouncing on the opportunity that presented, Melville Elementary sure as heck never did.

But as much of a puckhead as I have been since my earliest memory, it didn’t even occur to me that a hockey game would be conceivable field trip material. Yet today, you see at least a handful of AHL and other minor professional teams making it happen on an annual basis.

Over the past two days alone, there have been games facing off anywhere between 10:30 a.m. and noon local time in Hamilton, Oklahoma City, Grand Rapids and Manchester. Last Wednesday morning, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers hosted the Connecticut Whale before a season-high crowd of 7,696―heavily permeated by youngsters who just woke up after resting from their trick-or-treat excursion.

Now my inner child is really wishing the Providence Bruins had made this possible back in the 1990s. And my present-day self is wondering why they couldn’t do that today, for their own benefit and that of established and prospective young rooters.

The more you look at the way it’s already being done in other venues, the more you see how easily it could work. The following is a direct quote from the Manchester Monarchs’ “Education Day” pitch to New Hampshire educators.

Upon arriving at the game, each participating student will receive a workbook. This tool incorporates all the educational aspects of the American Hockey League while harnessing the excitement of the great sport of hockey. Students will use their math skills to calculate how many points certain players scored last season, their geography skills to identify a player’s hometown, their knowledge of New Hampshire history to better understand the Monarchs players’ new home, their critical thinking skills to solve word puzzles, and much more!

Once the students enter the arena, the learning will begin. On the concourse, your students will find exhibits focusing on Health & Wellness, Geography, Math, Reading and Science, most of which will be interactive. The Monarchs game itself will include video board quizzes and trivia.

The P-Bruins already jut out on the league’s promotional landscape with all of the elementary and middle school choruses they bring for their pregame patriotic concerts. Consider a school-hour home game a means of stepping up that outreach.

Just as multi-game road trips are conventionally credited with gelling a sports team, a bus ride to a destination far beyond the classroom helps a group of schoolmates bond. By serving as the basis of that bonding, scrapbook experience, the P-Bruins can make themselves a youngster’s reference point for future outings with family and friends.

The natural result: More ticket sales and more energized, vocal support at future games, to say nothing of what they could draw for the school-day skate alone.

Of the five AHL teams to have hosted this event this season, four drew an audience eclipsing their average attendance up to this point. The odd party out was the Grand Rapids Griffins, whose Wednesday morning bout with the Rockford IceHogs was played before 5,888 witnesses while their nightly median is presently 6,277 fans.

Translation: No guarantees this would beef things up at the Dunkin Donuts Center turnstiles, but it’s more than possible, especially if it were slated in lieu of what would have been a Sunday game.

That scenario would generate an added benefit directly to the padded personnel. If only for one out of the 18 slated occurrences, what AHL team wouldn’t want to push off Part III of a full weekend to Tuesday or Wednesday?

If only for one time, Bruce Cassidy’s pupils could take their rest day immediately after bussing back into Providence, resume practice for one or two days and then engage in some midweek extramural action. Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change of pace from cramming a one-day road-trip sandwiched by a Friday and Sunday home date and waiting until Monday to recharge?

The Sound Tigers doubtlessly excused themselves from what would have been a 14th three-in-three weekend slate with last week’s matinee. And they’re going to do it again in April, when they conduct another Wednesday morning face-off against Springfield.

With at least 62,000 K-5 students within the 401 area code, another 33,000 middle school-aged students and additional locals from Bristol County, Mass., who is not to benefit if the P-Bruins spring for this burgeoning custom?