From it’s humble beginnings in 1963 when Larry Lund first started at Memorial Arena, to what is now the Okanagan Hockey Group, the organization has become one of the most sought after programs of its kind in the world by parents.
Making the right choice for the Dean family was paramount when it came to choosing where to send their young son to learn the game he loved but more importantly, for an education and the skills to succeed in life.
So after much research, Steven Dean’s father Doug, settled on the Okanagan Hockey Academy.
“We brought Steve to Penticton to attend an Okanagan Hockey School summer camp for week in 2011,” recalled Doug whose family lives in Switzerland. “Then he came back for two more weeks in 2012 and 2013. We looked at other academies on the Island, in Calgary and Kelowna and to us the OHA was clearly the best choice, a straightforward choice.”
As well as the hockey camps the organization has operated in a dozen countries, OHA students come from over 30 countries and it is now the longest operating camp in the world. Last year, Okanagan Hockey Group released an independent study that showed they have a $19.91-million impact to the City of Penticton (from September 2015 to August 2016). That comes from direct money inject into the local economy, the academy activities and Okanagan Hockey Camps.
According to group vice president Dixon Ward, the success is a result of the commitment to the parents and especially the kids who come through the doors for the academy.
“It’s a massive responsibility when we take these kids in for 10 months of the year and we have to be cognizant of them 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Ward, whose own son spent four years at the academy. “For kids like Steve to come into this environment, to be part of hockey and the Canadian culture that surrounds it, it’s an opportunity to grow, to experience the academic process and mature.
“Steve has shown growth in all those areas, on and off the ice. Hockey is a small part of it and in his time with us the experiences he’s had, he’ll take those with him wherever his path takes him. “Where he’s headed now has nothing to do with how hard he shoots or how fast he skates.”
While there have been plenty of hockey success stories penned by academy grads there’s many more off the ice.
“We got kids in med school, we got kids flying helicopters in Afghanistan we got kids that are teachers,” said Ward. “These kids are equally important and sometimes more important because it’s about the life experience.”
At the academy discipline is not a bad word and is applied through setting clear expectations for students from the outset. Of the 160 student-athletes who attended Penticton Secondary School and KVR Middle School, Okanagan Hockey Group said 84 per cent are on the honour roll.
“It’s all about forming good habits, our value system never changes whether they’re on the ice or in the classroom. It’s about hard work, honesty and commitment and that’s a daily message from every single person who works with us and for us.”
And Ward had a challenge to people who think the academy is little more than a holiday away from home for rich kids.
“Come and sit in my office for a day and see what happens and talk to families at the end of the year and they’ll tell you something much different,” he said. “Take a look at the sacrifices the vast majority of our families make. It’s not only the financial sacrifice but the family dynamics sacrifice they make to give their kids this opportunity to succeed in life.”
The professional coaching staff also give back to local minor hockey, providing three free coaching sessions per team.