EDITORIAL: Youth sports are literally the future

The Quinnipiac women’s hockey team made the NCAA tournament for the first time ever in the 2014-2015 season. Women’s hockey will now have a professional league in the United States called the NWHL.

Oklahoma City Barons’ Kellen Jones skates during warmups before his game against the Charlotte Checkers. Before joining the Barons, Jones was a member of the Division I runner-up in men’s hockey in 2013 with the Quinnipiac Bobcats.

When it comes to professional athletes, they do not just pop out of nowhere. That’s where the importance of college athletics come in.

Picture yourself in an arena filled with thousands of cheering fans cheering on whatever sport the two teams are playing each other in. Yet, you’re not just a fan; you’re a friend. For me, that’s the case whenever the Oklahoma City Barons (starting in fall 2015, the Bakersfield Condors) roll into Charlotte.

My time at Quinnipiac University included some of the best years of my life. Being a broadcast journalism major and sports studies minor meant that I got to cover the sports teams in and around Quinnipiac. There, I met two men from British Columbia who knew a little thing about hockey.

Connor and Kellen Jones are twin brothers from Montrose, British Columbia, who elected to study at Quinnipiac while playing on the hockey team. Connor just so happened to be a journalism student like myself, so there would be times when we would be in the same editing suites working on assorted news packages. Prior to studying at Quinnipiac, I went to the team’s hockey games at their old arena; a local ice hockey rink where my brother would play pee-wee hockey. Now, they play in a state-of-the-art facility in front of thousands of fans on a regular basis. Still, I never envisioned that someday, there would be games that were televised, or that the team nicknamed the Bobcats would be ranked No. 1 in the nation or make it to the National Championship game in 2013. I especially never expected to not only know some of those guys, but actually be friends with two of them.

They were upset in the championship game, but still drew attention from many professional teams. At the end of the 2013-2014 season, the Jones twins signed with the Oklahoma City Barons, the AHL affiliate for the Edmonton Oilers. Many other members of that team signed with other teams as well, but the Jones twins stuck with me because I got the chance to know them well.

Flash forward to the 2014-2015 season, where the Jones twins were in the midst of their rookie seasons in the AHL. At the time, I had just moved down to Charlotte and was looking up the Charlotte Checkers schedule. As it turned out, the Carolina Hurricanes AHL affiliate was in the same division as the Barons, meaning the two teams faced each other often. I Facebook messaged the Jones twins who generously provided tickets to the game happening later that week. An interesting tidbit to that first game I saw the Jones play was that Kellen Jones wound up scoring his first career AHL goal, which would turn out to be the game-winning goal.

College athletics also provide many opportunities for women. The 2014-2015 season was a successful one for the entire athletics program, as the women’s tennis, women’s basketball, men’s hockey, and for the first time, women’s hockey made the NCAA tournament. The experiences that all of those players had to make it to the tournament that every team wants to make it to are indescribable. Being a successful student-athlete can expose people to so many different opportunities in life, and for women’s hockey as a whole, they will be working on a clean sheet of ice, literally.

It was recently announced that a new professional organization was emerging. The NWHL, or National Women’s Hockey League will debut later this fall with four teams up north. It’s a sign that more opportunities for women’s sports after college are coming. Hockey in this region still goes by the wayside, and as far as where I’d like the future of the sport to go, that’s for another editorial coming up in a few weeks.

When Duke University won the National Championship in men’s basketball this year, there was no doubt that basketball fans in North Carolina either loved or hated seeing them win. Give credit to the men on the team who busted their butts in school and on the court to get to play in the game. However, what I think is most important are the little kids in the stands who would do anything to play either for or against that Duke team some day. Those kids are the future of sports, and who knows? Some 15 years down the road, that little kid sporting a foam finger next to you in the stands could be shooting the game-winning 3-pointer for your team. Hold on to those dreams, because opportunities seldom come from nothing.

Ryan DeCosta is the sports reporter for The Tribune and The Yadkin Ripple. He can be reached at rdecosta@civitasmedia.com, 336-258-4052 or via Twitter @rsdecosta.

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