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PCC scores with customized classes for Winter Hawks

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The Portland Winter Hawks aren’t just thinking about developing hockey players, but about getting their players the best education possible and prepare them for careers after hockey.

Twelve members of the Western Hockey League junior team, which Travis Ehrhardt in Tonya Booker's class.consists of mostly Canadian players, are taking advantage of a new partnership between Portland Community College and the club. PCC is providing non-credit life-skills and core credit classes to help get them a degree or enable them to explore what they want to do when their hockey careers end.

Travis Ehrhardt, the team’s captain from Calgary, Alberta, leads by example as he takes the tailored life skills class through the college’s Community Education program, one of the largest non-credit community college divisions in the United States.

“The class is great,” said Ehrhardt, a 19-year-old defenseman who made it to the final week of training camp last fall with the defending Stanley Cup champions Detroit Red Wings. “It helps us figure out what we want to do and what we should take. The public speaking part helps us because we get interviewed a lot and talk to elementary school classes. The instructor showed us examples of public speaking that were helpful. It is always good to learn new things.”

PCC community relations manager Neal Naigus, a self-professed hockey nut, wondered a few years ago if the college had any relationship with the Winter Hawks, which typically drafts and recruits players between 15 and 20 years old. It seemed like a natural fit and so he began making connections with the league’s education director, Jim Donlevy in Calgary.

“He connected me to the Winter Hawks’ coaches and staff to talk about PCC providing the education classes for the players,” Naigus said. “As we developed relationships with the players we started making courses that focused on their individual needs; things that are of interest to them for future opportunities when they complete their hockey careers. At some point in their lives they will be finished with hockey and hopefully these classes will prove to be valuable in getting them careers once they hang up the skates.”Ehrhardt on the ice, manning the blueline for the Winter Hawks.

The Winter Hawks can’t always be in a classroom due to their heavy traveling and many, if not all, have to utilize distance education facilities at the Memorial Coliseum or at home. “It’s tough to fit in classroom training around a hockey schedule,” Naigus said.

But the non-credit personal development course is tailor-made for the Hawks. Tonya Booker, director of PCC’s non-credit Community Education program, sat down with several players to gauge their learning interests. She noted many of them were interested in career exploration, goal setting, personal finance, public speaking and time management skills. Class meetings were scheduled around the team’s travel itinerary, showcasing the program’s ability to cater to student needs. On the first day of class, they developed a set of expectations for the learning environment, which included it having to be fun and interactive, useful an

d applicable, respectful, open and honest. Also, input would equal output, meaning the players would get out of it what they put into it.

“Often times it is difficult to get buy-in when students are obligated to attend, so it was really important to create value in the learning for each student,” Booker said.

This term, the players are either taking credit classes such as in business, real estate or accounting, or the non-credit offerings. The rest of the team is in local high schools or taking distance education classes with schools back home in Canada. To be on the team, players must be in some kind of education program, be it high school or college.

“Portland Community College fills a critical need for all Portland Winter Hawk players,” Donlevy said. “The creativity of the PCC staff to design courses with timetable flexibility allows these student athletes to enroll in transferable classes in spite of their extensive hockey and community commitments.”

Tonya Booker chats with the Winter Hawks during her customized life skills class.

The WHL pays for all of the players’ education costs while they play for the team and each year they earn a year’s worth of free tuition, books and fees toward their college degree. So if a player manages to play four years, they will have college paid for.

“It’s a terrific deal,” Naigus said. “The more they exercise the brain the better hockey players they are. The WHL really promotes education for players as a high priority, and along with improving their hockey skills, they are improving their life skills, too. It’s also a high priority to get them the highest quality education available.”

For players like Ehrhardt, PCC is a chance to capitalize on what the league is offering him. The Calgary native is in his first full season with the Hawks after a few years playing for the Moose Jaw Warriors. He has career highs in goals (9) and assists (26).

But besides being a leader on the ice he’s one off of it as well. For Booker’s class, it’s Ehrhardt who got the guys up and corralled to be on time to PCC’s Central Portland Workforce Training Center to make the 9 a.m. course. He has taken some others classes such as health and wellness and said he wants to use the educational opportunities afforded him to become a professional trainer and work with individuals to attain fitness.

“Making it in hockey is tough,” he added. “So the career planning classes helped us figure out what we wanted to do after we’re done with hockey. It’s great that we talked a lot about that.”

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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