The Grand Rapids Griffins are a great team on and off the ice

photo 1-5Winners of the 2013 American Hockey League Championship, the Calder Cup, the Grand Rapids Griffins know that what separates a good team from a great team is the ability to take care of “the little things”, both on and off the ice.

Since 1995, the Grand Rapids Griffins Youth Foundation has done just that. Working in collaboration with the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Youth Foundation strives to teach youngsters the importance of teamwork, commitment, generosity, academic achievement, good health and some hockey too. Access to all Youth Foundation hockey programs are open to kids grade 1-12 regardless of socioeconomic background through a simple application process and, once accepted, all necessary equipment is provided free of charge – a nearly $500 price tag says Mike Simmons,  head equipment manager for the Youth Foundation.

The impact the Youth Foundation has had on its participants, however, is felt far beyond their checkbook. Teamwork, leadership skills, and academic achievement are all values learned by kids participating in hockey programs with the Youth Foundation. Academic resources, such as computers with internet access and student mentors, are available to kids on weekends to help with schoolwork.

Rodd Lowell, an adult coach in his sixth year with the program, has seen his own kids walk away with valuable lessons of success and failure learned through their interaction with staff and fellow players at the Griffins Youth Foundation. “My sons have had the opportunity to grow in themselves and learn the game of hockey in an atmosphere where they may have otherwise not had the chance,” says Lowell.

photo 2-4All things considered, the Griffins Youth Foundation wouldn’t be complete without their co-ed hockey instruction for physically challenged youth and young adults – appropriately named the Sled Wings. In partnership with Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, the Sled Wings became Michigan’s first junior-level sled hockey team in 2001 and have since established a nationally recognized reputation that includes a national championship in 2012.

In recent years, childhood obesity has been linked to an increasing rate of hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea, stroke, and even premature death in adults, according to a study by the American Heart Journal. This makes getting the recommended 60 minutes of activity every day crucial to encouraging a healthy lifestyle in youth. Today, more than 350 kids are involved in hockey programs with the Youth Foundation, giving them the foundation for a lifetime of health.

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