By Emile Hallez
An elite hockey academy for high school athletes could open in South Jeffco as early as 2013, and programs for soccer and lacrosse could follow.
A representative from the U.S. Junior Development Program met Sept. 13 with the Foothills Park & Recreation District board, presenting an offer to lease land on which the academy would build a school, a 37,000-square-foot dormitory and a 20,000-square-foot training center. The academy would purchase off-peak ice time at The Edge Ice Arena in exchange for the land being conveyed through a lease agreement. Foothills would benefit by $180,000 to $270,000 a year, the district estimated.
Though an official deal is far from being reached, the board of directors was largely receptive to the idea.
“We know how much The Edge Ice Arena has been making, and if we can fill it in during the day, it’s a no-brainer,” director Judy Johnson said.
The campus, which would be built to the west of the access road to the Meadows Golf Course, would provide seats for up to 160 student athletes, representative Mike Gempler said. Yearly tuition would likely range between $30,000 and $35,000, he added, and additional athletic programs would be established in following years if the hockey academy is successful.
Though the academy would have no affiliation with Foothills other than lease agreements, board member John Bradley Jr. cautioned board members about getting too excited about the potentially lucrative arrangement.
“These schools are highly controversial,” Bradley said. “Are the students actually learning, or are they learning how to get a college scholarship and eventually go on to the professional ranks?”
Students, most of whom would be selected from other locations around the country, would spend typical school hours practicing and training, Gempler said. Classroom hours would be more flexible in the academy setting, with some classes being held at night or on weekends. The students would also spend between 40 and 60 days traveling to hockey tournaments, he said.
“I’m a Midwestern boy. I believe in academics,” Gempler said in response to Bradley’s concern. “I don’t care if you’re Obama’s kid. If you’re not getting good grades, you’re not playing hockey. … I will help them get into college, and that includes athletics and academics. This is not a straight-up sports academy.”
The boarding-school program would be comparable to that offered at the Gilmour Academy, a Catholic school in Ohio, Gempler said.
“I’m ready to go whenever. … We’re interested,” he said, noting that investors in his program would likely include retired professional athletes. “The only thing that would be holding up is the investment.”
Of additional concern, several board members emphasized, is any potential negative reaction from the community.
“What are these kids going to do in their off time? … I’m curious about what other high school coaches would say,” Bradley said, noting that though he had questions, he was not necessarily opposed to the opportunity. “These kids are actually going to live here. That involves a lot of questions that people a lot smarter than myself are going to bring up.”
However, the students would have little time for mischief, Gempler said, as their days would effectively be filled with studying and training. Further, the majority of students would likely not come from the area, so few students would come from nearby Chatfield High School, he added.
“Their days are busy,” Gempler said. “I’m not pulling 200 kids from Denver. I’m pulling 200 kids from around the country.”