Losing focus

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:49 PM ET

Why is it that so many of the rules about minor hockey protect the rights of the organization, rather than those of the individual player or family?

And why hasn't this been challenged more often legally, if not ethically?

Last Saturday in these Amateur Sports Weekly pages, Mark Keast chronicled the story of Corey Trivino, a 15-year-old AAA hockey player of some talent who was sitting out the year because he no longer wanted to play for the Toronto Marlboros and they wouldn't grant him a release.

If this story was singular, then maybe you would wonder what else is involved. But every week I get an e-mail from somebody telling a story of some kid who just wants to play some place and some adult who is telling him he can't.

And still nobody does anything about it.

Nobody screams loud that the system needs fixing and the rules need to be balanced somewhere between individual rights and organization rights. Nobody screams loud enough and minor hockey goes on, unchanged, with too many kids -- one is too many -- being victimized by the process.

A lot of this has to do with the carding system in minor hockey. The GTHL will tell you, as the predominant league in Southern Ontario, that they offer more freedom than any other minor hockey league in Canada. This is true, but only to a point.

They offer freedom to play wherever you want as long as you have the paper work to go along with it. What they and other rep and select hockey organizations should be doing is eliminating the paper work.

A quick example of the imbalance of the rules between player rights and organizational right: A kid is playing minor midget AAA hockey and gets drafted by an OHL team. For the OHL team to secure that player, it must pay for a release. The money goes to the organization. But it was the parent, in fact, who paid for his child to play.

As one father pointed out recently, he paid $5,000 a year for his son to play AAA hockey, not to mention whatever he paid for hockey schools and power skating lessons, and when he chose to change teams between bantam and minor midget, it was the minor midget team (which had him all of one season) that got paid for his release upon being drafted.

"Now ask yourself this," the father said. "Who paid for his development? Me? Or the organization that had him for one season?"

In minor hockey, it is always organization first, individual second.

A 13-year-old I'm aware of was playing in a smaller centre on a AA team early this season when the coach determined he wasn't quite up to playing at the level.

Much like it works in the NHL, the kid was told to report to a lower level team in that same organization. Only one problem: Nobody told the lower level coach.

So the AA coach that signed him didn't want him. And the coach, who had a full team, didn't want him, and because a bunch of adults can't make up their minds, a kid isn't playing hockey right now.

While this isn't a GTHL example, the GTHL will tell you that for a cool $150 (yet another parental expense) you will be granted a hearing on the matter of your release. You can, in fact, challenge the system. Or so people say.

But those who have challenged the system will tell you the system is rigged. This ain't Judge Judy. You can fight all you want for a release, but you lose more often than you win. And the league does a far more stringent job in protecting its teams than it does in protecting its players.

If I join a health club, and pay for my registration, at the end of the year I can decide whether I want to continue for another year.

The same rights should be there for every minor hockey player -- of every age -- every year. You pay for the year, your card runs out in April, and you're free to go wherever you want, talent permitting.

It should makes sense to everybody but the vision of the people in charge remains ever clouded.


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