Its students include Emily Antony, whose father, Rob, is the Minnesota Twins’ vice president and assistant general manager. She started at Achiever Academy last fall after transferring from Rogers.
She said the “flexibility of working at your pace is my favorite part of it,” said Antony, a junior. “I really want to play college hockey, so great schooling and hockey definitely sold it for me.”
Ken Pauly, president of the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association, said he has “deep concerns whether it’s a step in the right direction. It could really open the door to something destructive.”
High school league executive director Dave Stead said all Achiever Academy student-athletes are currently eligible, based on the league’s guidelines for participation. But showing a clear separation between Northern Educate and Achiever Academy is vital. While players can train for their sport in specialized camps and programs outside of the high school season, the league prohibits athletes from being trained year-round by their school coaches.
Gartner said both Northern Educate and Achiever Academy are backing off from the reputation as “a grind-it-out hockey academy.” While advertising 480 hours of ice time for youth players at Northern Educate, Gartner estimated his son is using about 280 hours while also playing youth hockey outside the program.
“We’re not really selling hockey,” Gartner said. “If that was the perception around the old environment here, it will definitely not be the perception going forward.”
Gartner and Forsythe, using a newly minted company called Ability Academic and Athletic LLC, bought the schools from Shawn Black, who had failed to purchase the troubled Vadnais Heights Sports Center. Gartner and Forsythe said they do not plan to purchase any rinks. They hope to grow enrollment to about 200 students next year.
“We’re giving a lot of kids a dynamic new way to get their education and pursue their dreams at the same time,” Forsythe said. “We’re not promising anybody an NHL career. But hockey is an amazing vehicle to prepare kids for life.”