By: Gregory Caltabanis
When walking into Royal Vale School in NDG you would not be wrong by thinking that it’s not much different from the other elementary schools in the area. The staff is helpful, the teachers are conducting their lessons and the students are going about their business. After taking a deeper look into the school, however, it becomes apparent that their hockey program sets them apart from the rest.
Over a decade ago, Royal Vale physical education teacher Norman Katz created a hockey program with the goal of promoting health and activity. “These programs are typically found in high schools therefore it was unique initiative,” said Katz.
But how did it come to be? According to Katz, it all started when his colleagues at nearby Lower Canada College, a school renown for its impressive athletics programs, asked him if he’d like to put a team together from Royal Vale to compete in a league. Katz would accept the proposition and made elementary school history in the 2011-2012 season when Royal Vale finished in third place and qualified for the playoffs for the first time.
Katz did admit that starting this program from scratch was a bit overwhelming at first. “I told them I didn’t know if I can do this," he said. "I needed an arena. We simply didn't have the infrastructure,
Determined to see this idea out, Katz eventually succeeded in creating the program, despite the fact no public elementary school had something similar. “Being a public school kid all my life I’ve always believed that kids should have the same opportunities," he said. "The fact that they can do things that anyone can is important to me."
The philosophy of the program is a simple one. Whether you are a male or a female, you can play on the team if you are good enough. “Our captain of the team is a female," Katz said. The first two goals of the program were scored by a girl, Danielle Shemie,”
While he acknowledges it’s not easy for girls to play with their male counterparts for a number of reasons, Katz says he is happy the school welcomes them to play. “It takes a strong character because you have to be okay with being around the guys," he said. "You want to be a part of the team. I’m proud of every girl who has come through our program."
Katz recalled some of his fondest moments since the inception of the program. “We participate in a tournament at Lower Canada College every year with teams from all across Canada coming," he notes. "When they come here, they ask themselves who we are but now they know who Royal Vale is because of our program,"
Recently Royal Vale and Rapid Hockey Development have decided to work in collaboration together to offer students the opportunity to hone their hockey skills in a unique concentration program. For Katz, the introduction of this program will only continue to promote a hockey spirit at the school but he did express one concern. “Fundamentally I didn't want the kids to pay any additional money to pay for this program," he said. " here is a cost involved to participate but there are also positive spin offs,”
At the moment, it costs $1,375 to sign up for Rapid Hockey Development, which includes 72 hours of on-ice training among other things. “There are some kids in my program who are on it and are getting more training,|" he said. "Ideally, you think we can be a better team due to this program.” s
This relationship with Rapid Hockey Development has helped Royal Vale foster one with Concordia University.
“One of the coaches at Rapid Hockey Development knew Marc-André Element, the coach of the hockey team at Concordia and asked if some of our students could go see a game,” recalled Katz.
Plans call for Royal Vale students to attend a hockey game at Concordia University on February 12 “I’m hoping about 100 students could make the game, but it will depend on the parents,” said an enthusiastic Katz.
Elaborating on Royal Vale’s growing relationship with Concordia, Katz went on to say that it’s something he welcomes. “I think like in anything it has potential to lead to other things," he said. "The connection with an elementary school and a university is an interesting one. Many of these kids may even end up going to Concordia in the future. Concordia has sent a number of athletes to their Jump Rope for Heart Day while a number of Royal Vale students attended a women’s hockey game last year."
While not even Katz can predict where his program will go in the future, one thing’s clear: When it comes to elementary school athletics, Royal Vale is doing things right and represents a model for others to follow.