FALMOUTH, Maine — A devastating youth hockey injury in Minnesota has spawned a movement for players, coaches and associations to take “Jack’s Pledge” to play and teach hockey as a skill sport.
Mary Sue Mainella, working through the Casco Bay Youth Hockey Association, is spearheading the pledge movement in Maine.
“A friend of mine, his daughter is a friend of Jack’s,” said Mainella.
Jack is Jack Jablonski, a 16-year-old high school hockey player from Minnesota who was checked from behind headfirst into the boards on Dec. 30.
Jablonski suffered two broken vertebra and a severed spinal cord and is paralyzed from the neck down. Spinal surgery on Jan. 5 proved unsuccessful and the prognosis is that he will be confined to a wheelchair.
The day before the surgery, the Minnesota Hockey Association announced a program called “Jack’s Pledge: Playing Hockey the Right Way,” getting players and coaches to commit to minimizing violence and enhancing safety in hockey.
In less than three weeks the movement has spread to associations and teams in other states, including Maine.
Casco Bay Travel Hockey was the first association in Maine to agree to Jack’s Pledge, and Mainella’s efforts are continuing to bear fruit.
“The Falmouth [High School athletic director] has accepted it, the board has approved but the coach has not signed it yet,” said Mainella on Tuesday. “The middle school has adopted it and I’m sure the high school will follow.”
Mainella has a direct interest in having the Falmouth school system agree to the pledge. She has two sons, one 14 and one 11. The older son plays for the Casco Bay Bantam Travel A team and the Falmouth High JV team. Her younger son is a Peewee Travel player and plays for the middle school JV and varsity teams. Her husband coaches the Bantam Travel team, and Mainella is team manager for the Casco Bay and middle school teams. She is also a former board member of the Falmouth Ice Hockey Association.
And Wednesday, she reported that she had been told all Falmouth middle school and high school programs will be signing the pledge.
She also said, “Yarmouth has adopted it across the board. They called on Friday and had their stickers on Saturday.”
The stickers are helmet stickers that the players who accept the pledge attach to their helmets. Those taking the pledge will have their names listed on the Jack’s Pledge website.
The list is a long one with associations representing more than 6,000 Minnesota youth players topping it. Other associations from Maine to Atlanta to Oklahoma to Iowa are also there.
Mainella believes more Maine groups will soon be added.
“The president of the Maine Freeze [Todd Cray] responded quickly,” said Mainella. “I sent him an email at 2 o’clock and he emailed back at 2:30.”
The Northern Maine Middle School Association has approved the pledge, and the Southern Maine Middle School Association is close to it. And she has emailed the Maine Principals’ Association, which governs high school play, to get them on board as well.
She has emailed all of the youth associations, but she has her sights set higher, too.
“I’m trying to get Maine Amateur Hockey Association approval,” Mainella said of the organization which represents USA Hockey in Maine.
The pledge is aimed at eliminating the aggressive behavior that normally results in penalties such as boarding, checking from behind, cross-checking, charging, roughing and other contact-to-the-head transgressions.
Mainella noted that in Minnesota and Canada, many players wear stop signs on their backs.
“That’s the last thing players see before they hit someone [from behind],” she said.
The pledge is not designed to eliminate body checking, which the rules allow for bumping a player off the puck or impeding a player’s forward progress. Boarding involves unnecessarily knocking an opponent into the boards or doing it in a way that endangers the player being hit or might endanger both players.
Referees are asked to make sure they call such penalties to ensure the safety of the players.
Mainella is pleased with the reception so far.
“Definitely,” she answered when asked if the movement is gaining momentum. “Hopefully, it’ll pick up more.”
People interested in taking Jack’s Pledge or wanting more information can email Mainella at email@example.com, call her at 207-233-4686 or go to www.jackspledge.com.