The school bus sits silently in the parking lot. Its vibrant yellow dimmed by the mass of dense snowflakes falling from the sky. You can barely make out the name of the company on the side; it’s definitely from out of town. The rest of the parking lot is filled with trucks, mini vans and cars of varying ages. All soften by the relentless snowfall. Sound is muted, and those outside stand quietly in their smoke filled vigil, hushed by the sound of the snow.
Meanwhile inside the arena the scene is very different. Voices echo off the steel and concrete. Families call out greetings to one another and hockey siblings gather together to catch up on the week’s events. Parents huddle in the stands, hands cupped around coffee as they solve the world’s problems for anther week. Their gaze rarely leaves the ice surface as the skaters charge from one end to the other in the endless pursuit of the puck.
As the evening wears on the parents change places with other parents. The players steadily get bigger, but the coffee stays hot, and the chatter constant. Near the end of the evening the players are as big as they are going to get. Spouses dot the stands the level and intensity of player notches up.
Yet in another area of the arena teens gather for a Friday night tradition. Music pounds out as rural kids emulate the urban scene brought to them by television. The supervising adults’ reaction ranges from horror at the sensual moves so easily reproduced to chuckles as the kids enjoy a song twice their own age, but thinking its brand new. Forever proving that music bridges generations.
Allegiances come and go as she told him that he said that her best friend denied what she said when he was here the last time. Conversations only understood by those in the centre, almost a foreign language to those only within ear shot. But regardless of the relevance to the world around, these interactions are the cornerstone of the social framework of their lives.
Looking outside the school bus has left. Returning its young charges to their homes win or lose, they did have fun. Exhausted they’ll fall in to bed only to rise again the next day for practice in the endless pursuit of the puck.
In other community centers seniors flip cards where the conversation is more important than who called trump. Quilters add tiny stitches to huge acreages of fabric. Raffle tickets are a dollar each or three for two. These loonies and toonies pay for coffee and cookies, equipment and flowers for missing friends.
Community centers, arenas and hockey rinks aren’t just about wonderful words such as “infrastructure”, “viability” or “cost recovery”. These places are about the people within, not the structure without. While steel, concrete and ice don’t make a community, a community is founded upon steel, concrete and ice.
We need provincial and federal investment in our community centers to keep them viable. Even if you don’t play hockey, you just never know when you’ll be teaching some kids to “Time Warp”.