A League Falls in the Wilderness

By E. Martin Nolan

The Detroit Hockey Association is done. Dissolved. How did I just hear about this?

In the Spring of 2012, I published a piece here on Jack Adams Arena in Detroit. I meant to follow it up, but it got lost in the shuffle—until recently, when into the comment section of that first piece someone dropped the troubling news that the Detroit Hockey Association is no more. The DHA ran the leagues and teams hosted at the arena, so while the ice remains, the organizational structure around it does not. It turns out the DHA dissolved before this hockey season began. The causes and consequences of that dissolution are still not clear. But all signs suggest this is bad news.

Those signs, however, are scant. There is hardly any information out there on the demise of the DHA. It looks like the commenter who tipped me off, who has a long history with the organization, had been the primary keeper of the DHA’s blog. After the dissolution, it seems the blog followed him and became his personal outlet, which he used to tell his side of the story with a mix of anger, frustration and ODDly placed CAPLOCKS. Meaning, the only news on this issue is from a few blog posts that often swerve into rants, the merits and accuracy of which are difficult to decipher. What we can decipher from his posts is that the DHA was officially dissolved by the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association for failing to complete elections. Why that occurred is not clear. Full disclosure: I remember the blogger as a coach at Jack Adams who was both devoted—he was still there ten years after I moved away—and not someone people always got along with. So his perspective needs a bit of salt to go with it, but he should also be acknowledged as the only person to make an effort to broadcast this story.

There was nothing in the Detroit News. Nothing in the Free Press. Both are sports-obsessed papers in a sports-obsessed city. They have all the time in the world to cover high school sports and to chase around seventeen year old running backs picking a college. Yet, no coverage at all on the fall of a unique and valuable, if small and troubled, youth sports organization.

In the internet age, if a small community-oriented youth league falls and no one hears, does it matter? Yes. The fact that the comment section of my previous piece has now generated more updates on this issue than the rest of the internet combined shows there is interest here. So yes, it matters, but it also matters how it fell, why no one cared enough to cover the fall, and what people are doing to make up for it. So over the next few weeks, we’ll gather some firsthand accounts on what went wrong, what’s happening now, and why it matters.

First, a follow up on my interview last spring with Will McCants.

Coach Will is the former president of DHA and a long time stalwart of Jack Adams Arena. He was planning on retiring at the end of last season, but he did not plan on being DHA’s final president. I would not say it’s totally surprising that he was though. Jack Adams has struggled for reasons outside of its control, such as the economic depression Detroit and Michigan have suffered for some time now. But as the recent fallout suggests, in addition to the internal strength that has allowed the arena to survive, there have been internal problems as well. One goal of this series is to identify those strengths and weaknesses.

E. Martin Nolan: First of all, any response to what I’ve written above? Am I out on a limb anywhere?

Coach Will: I don’t think so. There were some things that were done by people on both sides of the issue, without the most important thought being focused on the children.

EMN: What, to your knowledge, happened to the DHA? What led to its dissolution?

CW: I am not sure what happened, from what I heard there were some issues with regards to possible vote tampering. But I really don’t know, I was not there. As far as the dissolution it seems that there was a power struggle between the old board and those who looked to move into empty positions and those who were still on the board not wanting to allow so called outsiders in. There were several issues with the bylaws which should have been updated but the main thing that I got out of it is that adults ruined a good program that helped a lot of kids stay out of trouble.

EMN: I’m tempted to say that’s all we really need to know. What is the situation now, in the wake of the DHA’s dissolution?

CW: I have heard of a learn to skate program but really could not give any details. [Hockey in Society will have more on this]

EMN: You’ve moved outside of Detroit now, and had some opportunity, I presume, to reflect on your time at Jack Adams. From that perspective, what stands out to you about the DHA and Jack Adams?

CW: I think the dynamic of taking a group of inner city kids and teaching a game that is not usually associated with inner city kids and being able to make a difference in their lives; also, seeing them learn and love a sport that does not always give the same back to them. The most rewarding thing is to look back at the accomplishments, and, overall, to look at the individuals and how they carried some of that can-do spirit into their adult lives. The Jack will always have a special place in my heart.

EMN: What were the greatest strengths and the greatest weaknesses of those organizations?

CW: The greatest strengths were being one big family, having some control over ice times and the parents who were involved. One of the biggest weaknesses was not involving people who wanted to get involved. Somehow we alienated them; others were too reliant on one person running the show.

One of the biggest issues was the lack of funding which hampered our efforts because the sport is so expensive; we often had to buy all the equipment for those who wanted to participate in order to get them to play. We were often at a disadvantage in comparison to other sports that did not require such costs for equipment. People did not realize I worked almost 70 hours a week on hockey. Whether it was at the rink or home, it was all about the DHA. It is weird not having that now, still trying to fill that void. I don’t miss the hockey. I miss the kids and hockey family.

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