Page 2 of 2 Previous

Continued: Offering opportunity -- for a price

  • Article by: JASON GONZALEZ , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 8, 2012 - 10:51 PM

Behind the walls of an old grocery store in Lakeville is Reed Smith's playground. For at least two hours, four times a week, the 13-year-old bounces around the warehouse with purpose.

The food aisles have been replaced with athletic equipment and ice, and the store clerks with certified trainers, transforming this building into Total Hockey Minnesota training academy.

Along with the couple hundred other hockey players of all ages from all areas of the Twin Cities and beyond, Smith and his older sister Annabeth spend considerable time and family resources for a chance at becoming the sport's elite.

"It's very competitive," Smith said about the training environment. "I do believe it's good for me. It helps me excel in my hockey career to be like the pros. It's necessary."

The quest for athletic success, perhaps even a college scholarship, has led the Smiths and other families to search for ways to keep up. Sport-specialization academies are fulfilling the demand created by kids and parents who are willing to give a lot in the hope of earning much more.

With two kids in the Intense Hockey Training program at Total Hockey, the Smiths spend about $5,000 for the seven-month service. It's a taxing financial commitment; the parents regularly ask their children if the cost is worth the return.

"Yeah, it's expensive," Reed said. "But it is worth it to come here."

The rise of academies has ruffled concerns from more traditional athletic communities that say they give the appearance of ensuring athletic success when it can't be guaranteed. However, Total Hockey Minnesota, the Minnesota Baseball Academy, 43 Hoops (basketball and volleyball), Mizuno Northern Lights (volleyball) and the Minnesota Thunder Soccer Academy are just a handful of the providers that claim to offer the Twin Cities' athletes the best training and opportunities.

These for-profit academies differentiate themselves from more traditional seasonal camps and leagues by offering year-round instruction from paid full-time employees and competition against high-level club programs and other academy-bred athletes. Mostly housed in warehouses, these businesses feature game-like playing surfaces and come stocked with weight rooms and sport-specific training equipment.

For a chance to reap success similar to that of local academy-trained professional athletes Kris Humphries of the Brooklyn Nets (43 Hoops) and Zach Parise of the Wild (Total Hockey), 15-year-old Emily Torve committed to academy life as a sixth-grader. She is among the many athletes and clientele convinced their athletic ability would not be the same without a very healthy relationship with the Hopkins-based 43 Hoops basketball and volleyball academy.

"If I didn't play club, I wouldn't progress as much as I could," said Torve, also a varsity volleyball player at Heritage Christian in Maple Grove. "My coaches told me how I could get better [in club]."

With three daughters committed to Club 43 volleyball, Lisette Torve is convinced of the merits of academy training though she joked about spending all of her kids' college money now.

"It's insane. Lets just say that," Lisette said about the annual financial obligation to academy life that goes well beyond monthly fees when regular travel and high-end equipment are factored in. "It's a huge money commitment."

Not everyone, though, agrees that academies are a prerequisite for high school athletic success. Stillwater Area High School softball coach Bob Beedle won a Class 3A state championship this past spring with a roster he believes was solely developed by the community's youth organization.

"I think that if you needed help, you can usually find help within your organization or association," Beedle said while taking a break from coaching a local summer softball team. "I'm not for or against [academies]. But I think some people think the more money you spend, the better your kid will get. I don't think there is a direct connection. I would never send our child into something like that."

The growing popularity of academies argues that more parents prefer the opposite. Minnesota Baseball Academy owner Adam Barta attributes part of his business' growth to peer pressure.

"Sometimes parents feel the pressure to keep up with what everyone else is doing," Barta said. "There is a lot of emphasis from a player-parent standpoint that you have to get lessons to be good."

Only the best

Nearly every second of the 60 minutes Gabrielle Bolcer and sister Christina spent with 43 Hoops instructor and former Ohio State point guard P.J. Hill was documented. The footage recorded by Mom, Dr. Sarah Bolcer, would be downloaded to the computer for evaluation at a later date.

Each drill and critique Hill offered the 12- and 10-year-old was revered, something the Bolcer family longed for.

"We wanted to get them more training and more skills," Sarah said. "There is so much competition in schools right now. They needed more and [43 Hoops] has solid instructors. I wish I had realized it earlier."

Academies rely on such need and praise to succeed financially. Like any business, positive word-of-mouth leads to more attention, more athletes and more income.

Some well-established academies in the Twin Cities have grossed seven figures annually but also stack up monthly bills that can reach $50,000.

Owners advertise the service as a way to help athletes of all ages meet their full potential in life, though it's also a way to make a living.

"I want to be the best at whatever I'm doing, whether it's playing or coaching or now as a business owner," said Chris Carr, 43 Hoops CEO and former NBA player. "Any business that people are owning and operating, you have to have money for that business to run effectively."

Looking for an edge

It's easy for Chanhassen parent Janelle Carlyle to recognize athletes involved with an academy. They're often the ones that stand out on the field, she said.

"From the skill level of the other players, it shows," Carlyle said, while waiting for her son to finish his tryout for the Blizzard Elite baseball club. "If you don't do it year-round, you get left out."

Though it's against school policies and Minnesota State High School League rules to require student-athletes to participate in academies and club teams, Carlyle and her son Mitchel are convinced it's the ticket to a varsity roster spot. The mother encouraged her son to extend his commitment beyond high school.

Former Stillwater three-sport athlete Morgan Stippel felt that same pressure, and instead of helping her, it hurt. She tried to live up to the demand and believes it eventually led to a string of injuries and surgeries that required her to sit out her senior season.

"A lot of coaches, I feel, pressure athletes that play their sports to be on the clock doing [AAU and year-round training] if you want to make varsity next year," said Stippel, now 19. "You almost feel bad about it. You're like, 'Well, I don't want to let Coach down or have someone pass me up.'"

Alongside an asterisk, the bottom of Total Hockey Minnesota's Intensive Hockey Training registration form references school affiliation.

The note addresses a discount for Lakeville South boys also enrolled in a high school-hosted summer camp.

Like the Lakeville area schools' relationship with Total Hockey Minnesota, several Legion baseball coaches also coach in the Minnesota Baseball Academy's Blizzard Elite program, and 43 Hoops offers instruction sessions at local high schools.

Pam Byrnes and Shannon Burger of Orono welcomed the academy's presence in their community. The moms said it provided their 9- and 10-year-old sons with extra work and the best chance to succeed.

Proud to produce the best

Blizzard Elite baseball graduated all of last year's elite team members onto a college baseball roster. Mizuno Northern Lights did the same and documents it on its website.

Kirk Olson, general manager and part owner of Total Hockey Minnesota, has helped transform his academy into what he described as the "best" in the chain of nearly a dozen Total Hockey-affiliated businesses around the country. A group of international athletes supports his claim by traveling thousands of miles to train in the warehouse full of special training equipment and an ice rink.

Even professionals have been impressed. Parise, the Wild's newest acquisition, spends many days of his offseason at the Lakeville-based facility.

"Life for the most part is competition. Whether it's a job interview or whatever. Competition is preparation," said Olson, who also is the Wild's strength and conditioning coach.

The high-intensity instructor isn't worried about any negative perceptions outsiders may have of academies. He is well aware of all the athletic options families can choose from and encourages each to pick one that best suits their needs.

"That is why training centers present themselves," the 40-year-old Olson said. "I think the onset of AAU put young kids into position where you almost have to specialize early on. Back when I was young, you'd just go to the park and play all the time."

Jason Gonzalez • 612-673-4494 Twitter: @JGonStrib

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Tennessee 7:25 PM
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
New York 7:00 PM
New Orleans 7:30 PM
Milwaukee 9:00 PM
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
Golden State
Florida 1 2nd Prd
Philadelphia 0
Colorado 0 2nd Prd
Pittsburgh 0
Toronto 0 2nd Prd
Carolina 2
Washington 2 2nd Prd
Columbus 0
Anaheim 6:30 PM
St. Louis 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Edmonton 9:30 PM
San Jose
St Thomas (TX) 61 FINAL
Rice 72
Stony Brook 23 2nd Half
Canisius 28
Temple 37 2nd Half
Delaware 21
FIU 25 2nd Half
Long Island 30
Lehigh 32 2nd Half
Quinnipiac 44
South Alabama 25 2nd Half
Richmond 28
Seton Hall 45 2nd Half
South Florida 33
Ga Southern 33 2nd Half
Stetson 40
Yale 28 2nd Half
Vermont 24
Cleveland State 18 2nd Half
Virginia 31
Wright State 31 2nd Half
Western Carolina 24
Nicholls 10 1st Half 11:45
Louisiana Tech 12
Morgan State 6 1st Half 11:34
Rider 13
Idaho State 16 1st Half 7:41
South Dakota St 14
Oakland City 7:00 PM
Austin Peay
Eureka 7:00 PM
Appalachian St 7:00 PM
Connecticut 7:00 PM
Southern Miss 7:00 PM
Jackson State
Coastal Carolina 7:00 PM
Ole Miss
Montana State 7:30 PM
South Dakota
LSU 8:00 PM
Ohio 8:05 PM
CS-Dominguez 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Walla Walla 9:00 PM
DePaul 9:00 PM
Oregon State
Nevada 9:00 PM
Portland State 9:00 PM
San Francisco
CS-Bakersfield 9:05 PM
Utah State
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Niagara 76 FINAL
Cleveland State 58
High Point 59 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 81
Towson 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 74
Presbyterian 50 FINAL
Charlotte 66
Chicago State 62 FINAL
Bradley 59
Northwestern Coll 58 FINAL
Drake 102
Vanderbilt 67 FINAL
Marquette 80
Temple 78 FINAL
Howard 48
Southern Miss 66 FINAL
Ole Miss 68
Rider 67
St Mary-KS 51 FINAL
South Dakota 115
William & Mary 71 FINAL
Wofford 51
Miami-Florida 65 2nd Half 1:57
Troy 58 2nd Half 7:06
Evansville 80
Loyola Marymount 24 2nd Half
USC 51
St Francis-PA 30 2nd Half
Duquesne 41
Indiana-Southeast 17 2nd Half
Delaware State 20 2nd Half
Detroit 38
Tenn Temple 20 2nd Half
Gardner-Webb 33
West Virginia St 25 2nd Half
Radford 26
Fairfield 23 2nd Half
Seton Hall 36
Dartmouth 26 2nd Half
New Hampshire 29
Ball State 19 2nd Half
Pittsburgh 30
Jacksonville 31 2nd Half
Tennessee St 34
Trine 21 2nd Half
Western Mich 46
Tenn Tech 14 1st Half 9:16
Lipscomb 18
Samford 7:00 PM
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Incarnate Word 7:00 PM
TX-Pan American
Ark-Little Rock 7:00 PM
South Dakota St
CS-Northridge 7:30 PM
Northern Ariz
Santa Clara 8:00 PM
(19) Oklahoma St 8:00 PM
Weber State
Washington 8:00 PM
San Diego State
Cal Poly 8:00 PM
New Mexico
(10) Louisville 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon


question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite pro sports coach in the Twin Cities?

Weekly Question





Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters