Terry Hebert grew up in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, a place where hockey is the destination sport for most young athletes.
As an adult, he wound up in Indiana — a place where most young athletes have never so much as tried on a pair of ice skates. Hebert points out that there are more ice rinks in Moncton — a city with about 70,000 people — than there are in all of central Indiana.
Hockey is a first-choice sport for many kids in such states as Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota. Indiana, not so much. It’s not even recognized as an official high school sport here.
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But there are some high school kids who still play — and Hebert, the coach of the South Stars high school club program, has found enough of them to continue fielding ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams.
There are a handful of programs within the Indiana State High School Hockey Association (ISHSHA) that manage to field high-quality teams almost every winter. Culver Academies is a Midwestern powerhouse, and its top-level team plays a national schedule. Its second-tier squad is a perennial ISHSHA force, as are the likes of Carmel Gold and the Columbus Icemen. Those teams generally compete for the state title in Class 4A.
The South Stars, who compete in the Hoosier League Championship Division with Carmel Gold, Columbus and many of the state’s other top programs, played for the 2A state title last winter — but following the graduation of nine seniors, the road has been a bit bumpier this season.
Playing lines made up largely of sophomores, the Stars have been mired in their division’s basement for much of the season. They currently sport a 5-22-1 overall record and are still looking for their first victory in league play (0-14-1).
“There’s a few birth years that are pretty thin, and that’s what we’re working through now,” Hebert said.
Despite the fact that the team has taken its lumps this season, both Hebert and his players are optimistic about the short- and long-term future of the program. The young players on the Stars’ ‘A’ team have been gaining valuable experience against older competition, and they’re expecting that to pay off down the road.
“It feels good knowing that next year I’m going to have a lot of guys that I know,” said Silas Deckard, a freshman at Center Grove, “and I’ve been with them a long time, so we have some chemistry going. It helps us on the ice, and we’re friends off the ice too.”
Some of the optimism stems from the team’s youth — there are just three seniors on the ‘A’ team, and most of the current nucleus will have two more seasons together. But Hebert is also encouraged by what he’s been seeing on the ice over the current campaign.
“When we first started the season, not only were they a little bit intimidated by the other players because of the size and everything, but the game is quite a bit different, too,” he said. “I feel like, as the season’s gone on, we’ve been more competitive.”
Also fueling optimism is the expected influx of talent from the lower levels. South Indy Youth Hockey, the Stars’ de facto feeder program, had roughly 100 players in it five years ago, Hebert estimates. Now, he says, that figure is closer to 250 or 300.
Next year is the first time that the high school program will be able to reap the full benefits of that growth — and South Stars president Lee Yaist expects to see between 10 and 15 freshmen to join the Stars next season.
By the time that group comes through the system, there shouldn’t be a need to have this many sophomores on the ‘A’ team anymore.
The baptism by fire that the current team is enduring won’t be necessary for future incoming classes — and while that’s a good thing, that doesn’t mean that this year’s group of youngsters can’t benefit from what it’s going through.
“As they grow into their bodies, (this experience) should really produce some really good results,” said Hebert, who also coaches the club team at Ball State University. “They’re getting valuable minutes now in really close games, and that’ll go a long way, I think.”
The South Stars are drawing from a fairly wide area — six players on the ‘A’ team call Johnson County home, with five of those attending Center Grove and one at Roncalli. Since there’s no formal ties to any area high school, the team doesn’t have nearly as much of a loyal fan following as area basketball teams do.
But while the local hockey players can sometimes feel as though they’re on an island, some have been able to drum up some interest among their friends and classmates.
“I’m able to get at least five to come out for every game, sometimes more,” Roncalli junior Caleb Spayd said.
“I’ve had quite a few friends come and watch games and whatnot,” Center Grove junior Michael Phillips added. “I’m trying to start a student section.”
Even if the stands aren’t always packed, Center Grove senior Austin Dusak — who will play intercollegiate club hockey at Butler next year — notes that the players are getting respect from their classmates for taking a road that’s far less traveled in these parts.
“It’s nice to be unique and play a sport that a lot of people don’t play,” he said.
Little by little, more young athletes on the Southside are playing hockey, though. It probably won’t ever become a destination sport for the majority in an area where basketball has always been king, but for the few who do lace the skates up and take to the ice, it’s nice to at least have the option.
Six high school students from Johnson County are playing hockey for the South Stars ‘A’ team this season:
11;Silas Deckard;Center Grove;Fr.
12;Michael Phillips;Center Grove;Jr.
13;Evan Yaist;Center Grove;So.
22;Austin Dusak;Center Grove;Sr.
40;Will Semmler;Center Grove;So.