Thanks to a grassroots effort by a group of enthusiastic parents, ice hockey is back in a big way for students in the Quakertown Community School District.
Operating as a club sport with no financial support from the school district, the high school and middle school teams are competing in the Suburban High School Hockey League and playing their games at the Hatfield Ice Arena in Colmar. Parents are footing the $30,000 bill for the first year with fundraisers, sponsorships and individual contributions.
“It’s been wonderful,” said parent Marie McNally, one of the driving forces behind the program’s revival. “For some of the older players, this is a dream come true to be able to play for their school team.”
With Quakertown’s ice hockey program dormant the past several years for a variety of reasons, players had no other choice but to try out for scholastic teams in the Lehigh Valley. Those who didn’t make it were left to compete on a frozen pond maintained by Quakertown Borough.
Sensing a pent up desire for scholastic hockey among players and parents, McNally and School Director Rob Diliberto worked diligently for the last year or so to spread the word that the game was coming back and formed the Quakertown Hockey Association.
“The response from the parents and players has been outstanding,” Diliberto said. “There has been an overwhelming response from the players being proud to be representing their school and wearing a Quakertown Panthers logo on their jersey.”
For high school coach, the QHA turned to Keith Krem, a Quakertown parent with two children in the district. Krem, who has extensive experience playing and coaching for three decades, will also be heading up hockey operations for the organization and hopes to develop feeder programs at the elementary school level over the next few years.
“It’s exciting to work on something in your own community,” said Krem. “The organizers did a great job. There’s a ton of interest in our program. We have a lot of really good hockey players in the area, a really good base. The game is for anybody and everybody, boys and girls.”
Krem began his youth hockey playing career with the Lehigh Valley Comets before moving on to play for the Junior Flyers. He was a member of the Philadelphia Quebec team and also participated in the Atlantic District Development Program.
For the last 10 years, Krem has coached for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms Youth. He is a level 4 coach and has been a head coach at the U8, U10, U12, U14, U16 and U18 levels. In 2014 he was named Coach of the Year for his work with his Lehigh Valley Flames U18 AA team that saw 10 players move onto prep, junior, or college hockey.
The following season he was named the first-ever Tier 1 head coach for the newly formed Tier 1 division of the Phantoms Youth. In 2015 he was named vice president of hockey operations for both Tier 1 and Girls Hockey Operations for the Phantoms Youth Organization.
So far, the high school team has dropped its first two non-league games. It will begin league play in the highly competitive Continental Divison on Dec. 4 against Upper Moreland at the Revolution Ice Gardens in Warminster.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs,” said Krem. “It would be OK if we finish .500 in our first year in a division that includes some perennial Flyers Cup contenders.”
Kevin Albert is coaching the middle school team, which is off to a 3-1 start. Albert has 11 seasons of coaching and 12 seasons of playing experience.
“I believe in the power of positive reinforcement and providing the tools to help players develop their hockey skill set,” he said. “This should be accomplished with a can-do attitude. In addition, once the correct mindset is in place, I believe strongly in helping the players develop long-term and short-term goals to help them focus on building a hockey career.
“I am a very passionate and high energy coach who believes in the team concept,” he added. “Player development is my main objective, as well as providing a safe environment for the player to learn.”