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Mary Ann Nelmark letter: Youth athletics builds character

I write in response to Eric Bergeson's column about the Squirt Hockey Tournament that was held in Fargo the weekend of Feb. 23-25.

I'm confused at your article. Are you jealous that you weren't a part of the nations biggest youth hockey tournament or bitter because as a child you didn't play a team sport?

I spent the weekend with my nine-year-old son in Fargo at the tournament. I admit, I wasn't thrilled that he missed school on Friday or that I had to spend a good amount of cash on sub-par concession stand food. I was also a tad bit nervous about driving to and from Fargo from Frazee when bad weather was striking the area. But you know what, I survived and sacrificed for my child to have this unbelievable experience.

My child plays in the Detroit Lakes Youth Hockey Association, our fees are minimal. A couple hundred at most and that's if you don't work the concession stand for home games; otherwise you get your deposit back at the end of the season. The equipment isn't that expensive if you do your research. Buying used equipment or trading it in is the way to go.

My son played about 25 to 30 games this season as a Squirt. My husband and I couldn't wait to watch him play. We traveled as far as Morris, Brainerd, Wadena, Fergus Falls, Park Rapids, Crookston and then the Grand Daddy of them all; the 23rd Annual Fargo Squirt International Tournament. My biggest thrill was to see him skate and watch the improvement he and his team mates had made since the beginning of the season. Myself and the other parents were just giddy when any of the kids made a good play, scored a goal, passed the puck (which in youth hockey is quite an accomplishment!) or my favorite, the Salute to Our Parents at the end of the game, win or lose! I'm not kidding you, tears welled up in my eyes when they all lined up in front of us, raised their sticks and tapped the ice. Now that's worth all the gas money, concession stand coffee (1/2 coffee, 1/2 cappuccino) and trips to the sports store to buy another mouth guard or tape.

Yes, as a mom I wish they would win more games because it builds confidence. Our Squirt team won one out of five games at the tournament, so there were some tears shed. But he got over it real fast because he knew he had some game tokens to play games at Scheels, or a few hours to play, swim or go out for a fun lunch with team mates to TGIF.

One of the things that really impressed my son, and he has started as a new hobby, is pin collecting. Most of the 88 teams design pins with their team name on it and they trade them. The arena after the game was chaos! But all I had to do is look for a swarm of 9, 10 & 11 year olds and there they were trading pins. It was so cool to see our children interacting with the boys and some girls. There were kids from Texas, Nebraska, Canada, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, all different states, accents, strange French names, experiences, but one common bond, Squirt Youth Hockey. There was no, "We kicked your butt, or you stink so I'm not trading a pin." They could care less, it was all about the pins at that point.

My kid was exhausted but at the same time exhilarated and pumped for the next game or day. At one point the told me, "Mom this is the greatest weekend of my life!" He wanted to play more games, watch the others play and trade pins. He loved the entire experience as did his teammates. I admit I was tired, stressed because I had to entertain his sisters through five games, and sad that this was all coming to an end. So, Mr. Bergeson with that being said, yes, it is worth every dollar to have my kid play against some of the best in the nation. It will only improve his hockey skills, communication skills (trading pins!) and build friendships that will hopefully last a life time. By the way, these boys are fourth and fifth graders, NOT third graders. It all depends on when their birthday falls.

As for the pressures on kids in sports, I totally agree. A lot of parents are living vicariously through their kid. However, you are being very unfair at making a blanket generalization that parents are putting too much pressure on their kid and that we don't give unconditional positive feedback . The kids and parents that we are associated with have nothing but unconditional love for their own boy as well as the others on the team. I'm pretty certain that the other 88 teams are the same way. It is a small percentage of parents that are like that and that's in any sport. Heck it's not even it sports, I've seen parents get upset that their kid didn't win a spelling bee. They made excuses, "oh she had a headache," "junior didn't get past the d's in the dictionary". Unfair Mr. Bergeson, do your homework before you start labeling people. And another thing, when was the last time you read anything about childhood obesity? It's something like 60 percent of kids are obese because of lack of exercise and bad eating habits. At least my kid isn't sitting in front of the TV playing Play Station all day. He's out busting his butt skating, doing crushers, super crushers and learning what it's like to be apart of a team. Strengthening skills that he will need when he's an adult... like listening, taking orders, showing respect to others, knowing that there's no I in team....being unselfish, helping others, appreciative of others abilities and then friendship of course.

Yes, being a hockey parent is tough work. It's a sacrifice as is any sport. The time commitment is the biggest for me, especially being that we live 25 miles from the arena. But, I make that sacrifice for my child so when he is parent he will make the same sacrifices for his kids. So far he has great memories of hockey and especially the Fargo tournament. He will carry them through adulthood.

I have very vivid memories of playing sports from when I was a kid. I remember that our team stunk at times, but the camaraderie and friendships that were made were priceless.

I leave with this, you have a problem if you think that my fourth grade kid should be out on Saturday afternoons building snow forts in the backyard while Dad dozes in the recliner. We're different, we're out building character, athleticism, friendships, sportsmanship and love. You're not doing anything sleeping in the recliner.

Go LAKERS!!! -- Mary Ann Nelmark, Frazee