’50 Stories of 50 Years’ – Friends of the Alberta Junior Hockey Society

Scholarship funds there for junior hockey players going to post-secondary school

It’s good to have Friends in high places, especially ones with deep pockets.
That’s what hundreds of junior hockey players, both active and retired, have found out over the past 30 years as the Friends of Alberta Junior Hockey Society have handed out hundreds of thousands of dollars in post-secondary scholarship money.
Bob Green, the president of the Friends of the Alberta Junior Hockey Society said that they’ve been operating since 1983 and were incorporated in 1984. Their main focus is to help junior hockey players of all levels ease some of the costs of receiving a higher education.
“It was a group that got together and said let’s see if we can find some money to help kids with their education,” Green said of the program’s inception. “It was a group basically from the northern teams in the AJHL: Bob Russell from St. Albert, John Bauer from Fort Saskatchewan, Harry Zuzak from Sherwood Park, Dave Cummings from Olds and the President at that time, Cec Swanson. They got together along with Bob Campbell out of Fort McMurray and gave some thought to what they could do.”
What they’ve done is amazing. Over the years that original idea has grown by leaps and bounds both in the dollar amount of the scholarships awarded and the number of grants handed out, Green explained.
“It started out as $500 (per recipient), then it went to $750 and then it went on up to $1,000 and then $1,500. In fact, we’ve had it up as high as $2,000. The number of scholarships varies every year,” dependent on both the number of applicants and the amount of money in the bursary purse.
For the 2013-14 season there were 19 scholarships awarded but numbers in past seasons has been more than twice that with a total of 44 awards being handed out in the 2006-07 season. There have been three times when no funds were awarded but that was close to when the program was first launched and likely not well known.
The money for the scholarships, which are open to any player in Alberta who is playing junior hockey at the A, B or C level, comes from the province’s casino piggybank. Green explained his society receives a casino in either Calgary or Edmonton once every two years and all that money, minus a bit of administration costs, is handed out.
“We raise $65,000 to $85,000 per casino. That gives us about $30,000 a year to give out,” and over the years that figure has amounted to $646,000 which has gone to help student athletes.
“Originally when it started this was designed for the Alberta Junior Hockey League,” Green continued of the program. “When we started getting casino funds back in the late ‘80s, the Alberta Gaming Commission stipulated who you can and can’t give it to. Up until let’s say four years ago, probably 100 per cent of our scholarships went to players in the AJHL. But, Alberta Gaming has a rule in there that says it must be open to junior hockey players, so it can’t be specific to a league. So our constitution and bylaws read ‘it’s open to junior hockey players playing for a registered hockey team in Alberta,’” excluding those in major junior hockey.
The one perhaps overlooked perk to these scholarships is that a player can draw funds from the account for a lengthy period of time, as long as he’s at school.
“For every year you play junior hockey in Alberta, after you graduate because of age, you are eligible for one year past. So if you play as an 18, 19 and 20 year old you can apply as a 21, 22 and 23 year old as long as you’re still going to school. So, if you play three or even four years of junior hockey you can apply for your four years of university after you’ve graduated from junior hockey,” Green explained. “That’s a bit of a bonus we put in about 12 or 14 years ago. We found a lot of kids playing junior hockey weren’t going to school but they were going to go to school afterwards, so why penalize them? Technically speaking, a kid could get eight years of scholarships.”
One of this year’s recipients from the junior A Spruce Grove Saints, Dylan Hollman, who has been taking classes at the University of Alberta prior to heading to the NCAA next year, said he has gotten more than one year of funding from the Friends and because of that, he’s the envy of his teammates.
“It’s awesome. I’ve been fortunate enough to get this a few times,” he said, noting a full ride scholarship down south doesn’t cover all expenses a student athlete incurs.
Since he’ll be leaving as a three-year veteran of the AJHL after this season, Hollman is able to access six years of funding according to the rules of the grant. He likes that idea.
“I’ve talked to lots of my teammates about that and they’re kicking themselves for not applying for it,” he ended, again noting this is indeed a great reward for a great career in the junior leagues of Alberta hockey.
As well, The Friends of the Alberta Junior Hockey Society make scholarship funding available each year for on-ice officials and team trainers who qualify, Green explained.
In closing, the president noted about the society, “Actually, we’ve been told we have one of the better junior scholarship programs in Canada,” and when you realize the total amount of grant money they’ve awarded over the years is creeping close to three-quarters of a million dollars you realize these Friends in high places really do have deep pockets.

By Gord Montgomery