Students at Liberty Elementary School spent the last few weeks making assists, scoring goals, and protecting the puck this week, as they learned the rules of the game and had a lot of fun along the way. Thanks to an equipment donation from the NHL and the Nashville Predators, students are being introduced to a game that is played on a professional level right in their backyards – or more accurately, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
This unit of study culminated last week with the Stillings Cup Championship Tournament, played by fourth-graders after a series of elimination games
Physical education teachers Melissa Stillings, Judy Stinson, and Melinda Toungette (latter two now retired) began the annual Liberty Elementary hockey tournament in 1988, about 10 years before Nashville was granted an NHL expansion team. “We used homemade hockey sticks and beanbags for pucks back then,” Stillings remembers.
The tradition has continued every year since but the equipment has been upgraded. “The Nashville Predators’ ‘Hockey Rules’ kids program has been to our school for several years and has been great in skills instruction for our third and fourth graders,” she said. The Predators have also provided training for physical education teachers in the district in how to teach the hockey program. Through the training, the Predators gave each Franklin Special School District school hockey sticks, balls, and nets to use in PE class.
At Liberty, the hockey instruction culminates with a 4th-grade round-robin tournament in PE class and ends with a final game played in front of the entire school. “We teach all of our students (K-4) basic hockey skills, but they don't really start playing full-court games until third grade. In fourth grade, we introduce students to tournament play,” she said. The winning team is presented with the Stillings Cup, a nod to the teacher who has spent 30 years teaching children in Franklin about the sport of hockey, among many other things. “While we feel that the hockey skills are definitely important, the Stillings Cup is really all about teaching teamwork and good sportsmanship,” Stillings said. “Twenty years from now, they may or may not remember who won the tournament, but they will remember how much fun they had.”
The NHL partners with its affiliated hockey teams to provide a street hockey program, NHL Street, which serves local community centers and schools by providing street hockey equipment (sticks, rubber pucks, no-bounce balls, nets, and protective goalie gear) and educational programming free of charge. The physical education teachers at all FSSD schools have participated in this training and each school has a street hockey set to use in their classes.
The NHL and Nashville Predators provide this program to children in the Middle Tennessee area through Street Pride, presented by United Health Care.