By SCOTT BURSEY, Staff Writer
When Barney Ledford has a vision, he doesn’t aim small. Years of rising at 5 a.m. to get his children off to hockey practice must be a hard habit to break.
Ledford, coordinator of the criminal justice program at MMCC, is the mastermind behind the school’s fledgling hockey program. “I was drawn to the need of area hockey players who wanted to continue playing after high school,” Ledford explained.
Almost a year later, he is enjoying the experience of building a program — a program that is 100 percent self-sustained through contributions and numerous fund-raising campaigns. And the Michigan Collegiate Hockey Conference (MCHC) is enjoying Laker hockey being a member of its conference. Recently, the MCHC quickly accepted the Lakers back into the league for a second season.
It is easy to understand why the league made a quick decision.
As one MCHC official was overheard saying, “The team had a never-quit type of attitude that evolved into something special.”
Though the Lakers got off to a slow start, losing soundly game after game, the players saw the fruits of all their hard work pay dividends with a season-ending series sweep at home against Mott Community College. The team learned a lot about itself this past season and discovered that they have the skill to play at the college level.
Coach Ledford was quick to point out, “The team’s growth could only have developed because of the members of the faculty that united, forming a solid coaching staff” comprised of Brian Knopp, John Gordon, Mark Jewell, Shawn Troy and Chris Kliewoneit.
“What is really satisfying to me as a coach is that our players were dedicated to our program and advanced as a team,” Ledford said. “Above all else though, the most valued item to discuss, and I speak for the entire coaching staff, are the bonds and friendships that were established.”
The team knew it would take a lot of hard work and support by many to have a successful season – and the road to that first win was not an easy one.
What a transition it was from the first day of tryouts when an astonishing 28 players showed up eager to showcase their hockey abilities. “Fortunately enough, two of them were goalies,” Ledford recalled chuckling. Half way through the season the Lakers acquired a couple more quality skaters and the team’s chemistry began to develop.
Typically, in competitive hockey, it takes a lot longer than a handful of games and a weekly practice session to experience the results the Lakers were displaying. And it takes a lot more than talent. There’s the need for teamwork, mental and physical toughness, and an insatiable desire to win.
Even more amazing, the job of starting a hockey program of this magnitude requires more than keen vision. It requires massive energy. First, Ledford lobbied school officials to start a program. He was then able to convince the MMCC board to approve the pilot program, but with no financial backing.
That’s all Ledford needed to hear. The coach was in the zone — but he still needed the financial backing and community support to even get started.
The cost associated with running a college hockey program is significant. Team uniforms, ice time, referees, traveling expenses, and a myriad of other costs. Ledford raised what he could through private contributions and the balance was absorbed by the players.
The coach and his staff are already planning for next season. Corporate sponsorships and several golf outings have been discussed.
There will be a number of team functions this summer. Any current student interested in joining the team is encouraged to contact Ledford at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any individual or business interested in helping support the team in its second year also should contact Ledford.
The Lakers will be riding a winning streak heading into next season. Not bad for a school that never had a hockey program before.
Now, with a full season under their belts and a strong nucleus of players expected back, there is good reason to be optimistic about the future of Lakers hockey. And it all began with a vision … and a lot of hard work.