WHL players hit the books

SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

There was a time, not so long ago, when young hockey players were forced to make a tough decision.

Hockey or education.

Those who felt they had a chance to pursue a professional career usually played major junior hockey.

Teenagers who wanted to go to school sometimes elected to play Tier II hockey in hopes of nailing down an NCAA scholarship.

The WHL worked feverishly over the past decade to change the perception that playing in The Dub means the end of educational opportunities.

The WHL handed out 253 scholarships to graduated players this season, a number commissioner Ron Robison is proud of.

"It clearly demonstrates our league's tremendous commitment to education," Robison said.

"No other league grants the number of scholarships we do."

Each WHL club is responsible for funding the scholarships for their own players -- one year's worth of tuition and books for every year of service in the league.

This season, WHL teams will contribute more than $1 million to graduates utilizing the WHL scholarship.

Jim Donlevy, the WHL's director of educational services, said people's perceptions are beginning to change.

"The more parents I talk to, the more they understand how things have changed," said Donlevy, in his 18th season with the league.

"The WHL might be the biggest non-federal funder of athletics in Canada."

The scholarship program started to take shape years ago.

"Ed Chynoweth came up with the idea that we needed to set this up in a universal way," Donlevy said of the late father of junior hockey.

"At that time, we needed to provide graduated players with $2,500 per year, and we weren't meeting that."

Today's scholarship is indexed against tuition costs. If tuition goes up, the scholarship goes up.

Former Calgary Hitmen forward Brock Nixon is one player taking advantage of the WHL scholarship program at the University of Calgary.

"It's huge," Nixon said. "You meet other students and realize what they have to go through.

"They have to have jobs while we just get to concentrate on school and hockey.

"When I was young, I wanted to go to the NHL, so I was going to play in the WHL.But with the way the league is now, you don't have to worry about choosing between hockey and education."

The Uof S leads the way with 26 WHL grads enrolled in fulltime studies.

scott.fisher@sunmedia.ca


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