MARQUETTE - Families with a child - or children - playing on youth travel sports teams have a big commitment when it comes to their time, no matter whether it's basketball, soccer, baseball, hockey or another sport.
But because of numerous games, expensive equipment and costs to rent ice time, hockey also has the largest financial outlay for parents who want their sons and daughters to play on these elite squads.
One Marquette Junior Hockey Corporation head coach estimates the family of a single 11- or 12-year-old boy on his team will spend $6,000 to $9,000 during the seven-month season, which runs from September preseason practices through March tournaments.
Coaches talk to their players during practice for the TriMedia Squirt AA travel hockey team at Lakeview Arena in Marquette recently. From left are head coach Doug Anderson and assistants Robert Luke and Jason Peterson. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
That includes costs levied by the team and the umbrella MJHC organization, along with what a family spends on its own for items such as skates and hockey sticks, as well as travel and related lodging and dining expenses.
In exchange, though, coaches and parents alike say they get much more out of it than just seeing their children improve their sports skills.
"Team sports is very important for any young boy or girl," said Eric Bordson, first-year head coach of the City Insurance Pee Wee AA team.
Adding that each team must be self-sufficient, he made the estimate of the thousands of dollars that a family spends for each of the 16 members of his team.
"It doesn't matter if it's hockey, basketball or baseball, these sports teach a child what it's like in the real world once you get to college and after college," Bordson said. "You learn to work together and compete, like a lot of us have to do every day."
Though he's in his first year as head coach, he has helped coach for seven years while his son has played the sport.
The costs are much less for a Superiorland Soccer Association travel team, though some expenses are similar.
A family who has a child on one of these Marquette-based travel teams might only need to come up with funds estimated at closer to $1,000 per year.
Parents of a boy or girl on the similar-aged Marquette Red Bulls Under-13 team pay around $550 to join both the SSA and the travel team.
That covers expenses that include jerseys, tournament fees, some field upkeep and SSA administration, but not cleats, shorts, socks and travel-related expenses for four or five out-of-town tournaments and league-game weekends.
The season, including preseason conditioning time, runs about as long as hockey, but starts in August and ends in June with a break of about three months from now until January or February.
Benefits derived from playing sound similar to hockey, however.
"It's a very valuable experience for my son to be able to be with other kids around his age," said co-head coach Bob Holm of the 14-member Red Bulls U13 team about his son Zac. "It's allowed him to become more of a leader and helped him become more outgoing.
"The kids have a built-in group of friends, and they really get along with each other."
Like Bordson, this is Holm's first year heading up a team's coaching staff, though he has assisted in soccer and other sports, including the high school bowling teams at Marquette Senior High School.
Both sports conduct fund-raisers to offset costs, though that role is rather limited.
The MJHC allows each team to conduct two fundraisers of their choice, within certain guidelines, per season. As an example, the Pee Wee team has planned a can and bottle drive along with selling candles, Bordson said.
The limit of two fundraisers is meant to allow each to succeed, instead of having teams constantly running activities to raise money.
"There's only so much you can ask from the same pool of people," said Bordson, who added that some parents find businesses or individuals to sponsor their child as another cost-saving measure.
A successful fund-raiser might cover the entry fee for an out-of-town tournament, often $750 to $1,200.
Quality hockey equipment doesn't come cheaply, with a "decent" pair of new competition skates estimated at $140 to $440. While used skates are cheaper, they may not last long without enough blade to sharpen frequently.
A stick made of composite materials can run $70 to $240 each.
"The number of sticks a player goes through is very much dependent on the way he plays," Bordson said.
There's also pants, socks and protective padding, along with fees for skate sharpening and tape for hockey sticks.
Ice time, even just for practice, runs about $165 per hour at Lakeview Arena, Bordson said, though some discounts are available through the MJHC.
"And you figure you're going to spend about $100 a night at a hotel or motel," Bordson said, with 16 or 17 nights of lodging per season.
The Pee Wee team plays an estimated 65 games this season every weekend from October through February. That includes tournaments downstate and in Wisconsin and Minnesota, along with home and away league games against teams ranging as close as Escanaba and as far away as Alpena.
"The home team picks up the cost of ice time, referees and scorekeepers," Bordson said of league games.
Another hockey coach, Doug Anderson of the TriMedia Squirt AA squad for 9- and 10-year-olds, said as the entry-level travel team in the MJHC, he sees first-hand the transition for both players and parents from less-competitive house teams to more serious travel squads.
"There's a lot of teaching going on," Anderson said. "We're there to develop skills in kids this age and we try to be competitive at the same time."
He said it makes little sense to be a "yeller" for this age group.
"You've got to be a teacher and have appropriate drills in order to teach techniques," he said.
First-time travel team parents are also learning.
"The costs are about the same as the older kids, but the difference is getting parents used to it," Anderson said. "Most parents of house-league players are used to having one flat cost to pay.
"Some kids couldn't come out (for the team) because of the costs involved."
That doesn't include just money, but time, too.
"If they have one (child), it's easier to budget that time, but if you have more than one, do you want to place all your time with this one child?" Anderson said.
For example, coaches require players to attend prepractice sessions so expensive ice time is used more efficiently.
"And we don't want players arriving an hour before the first game of a tournament in Traverse City," he said. "You're not ready to play without some recovery time, so we want them arriving four or five hours before and getting some rest before having to play."
The MJHC's travel teams also include teenagers through 19 years old with the American Legion Post 44 Bantam AA and Electricians Local 1070 Midget AAA teams.
There is also a girls-only travel team, which ranges from preteen to 19-year-olds and participated in the national finals tournament in California in 2011.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.