Langton and Area Minor Hockey Association is celebrating its 50th anniversary during the 2020-21 season.
An important part of the community for five decades, that tradition carries on today through generations of hard work and the dedication of its volunteer executive, coaches and hockey players.
Roger Demeester, who celebrates his 82nd birthday on Dec. 13, is one of the original executive, and has been a timekeeper/scorekeeper in the arena for more than 8,200 games.
“You’d almost have to think a guy’s stupid to be here 50 years,” Demeester joked. “Maybe I got hit by too many pucks.
“But I still have the same impression now as when we started. We made up a constitution when we started this organization – it was for the benefit of the kids. It was recreation. It was something to do. And I still feel exactly the same way about hockey now. I don’t have any more kids involved, so I can be objective. I don’t have to look at who’s good, who isn’t. It’s just real simple for me – if we can help a kid get to the point in his or her life where they can handle real life experience… If you can transfer that kid from an alley in Simcoe to a real good kid… some of that may be from what they learned in minor sports. And it doesn’t have to be hockey, any minor sport.”
Blair Townsend, a 20-year veteran on the LAMHA board of directors, is also one of its original players from 1971-72. Both are life members and sat down to share some LAMHA history.
The story of Langton and Area Minor Hockey starts in the early 1970s with the construction of the Langton arena, which was heavily supported by the Langton Lions Club.
“The Lions Club was a big mover in the area here and they gathered up a lot of support from the public,” said Demeester. “Basically, I’d say the Lions Club was the No. 1 reason this arena was built.”
LAMHA soon followed.
“It was a community effort. I would guess a lot of those kids probably never played any hockey at all until we started with an arena… and we started 400 kids. It was basically a farm community where the social plan of most families was ‘work instead of play.’ It just started from there.”
That did not mean they could not skate.
“We came from the pond,” said Demeester. “Kids had skates, everybody had skates. We came from the pond on the farm to here, the arena.”
“We hit the ground running, we really did,” nodded Townsend, who as a first-year bantam was one of the few with organized hockey experience after playing a couple years in Tillsonburg.
“I think the first-year bantams, we went three rounds in the playoffs. We played pretty good, we had good hockey. We went into the OMHAs right away.”
Townsend said it wasn’t long before LAMHA had its first banner.
“The second year,” Demeester nodded. “And we stayed good for quite a few years because we had so many kids.”
They had the raw talent from the get-go, said Townsend, and the rest came in time.
“I think we were basically the laughingstock in the minor hockey area because there was never any structure here (in the earliest years), there was never any team system,” said Demeester. “It was just all kids that could skate. Then the building program began.”
“All our coaches, none of them had coaching experience,” Townsend laughed. “The kids could play better than the coaches could coach in a way. It was a little bit of bash and crash, some of the farm boys used a little bit more muscle than the town boys had.
“Work ethic was the thing,” said Demeester.
“Growing up on a farm, it’s not just a one-hour workout,” said Townsend. “Everybody here, tobacco was king, so everybody worked on a tobacco farm. You got put to work when you were big enough to start moving leaves. It was the progression. You were picking up leaves, then you were priming machine driver, then you started moving baggies or baskets driving, then if you were big and strong you’d go hang kiln or you went out and primed on the priming machine.”
One of the things that stood out for Demeester at the beginning was the volunteerism in the Langton area.
“The volunteerism was great. Everybody was willing to pitch in as coaches, as team executives, everybody was interested in helping out in one way or another, both on the executive and out on the ice.
“Oh yeah, the arena was just bustling,” Townsend nodded. “On a Saturday here, it was just a madhouse. We had four teams in just about every house league division and we played in-house.”
Three years after his minor hockey career ended, Townsend was back at the arena coaching.
“I loved it. I loved it better than playing.”
Over the years, the Langton and Area Minor Hockey Association fed a successful Junior D team, and Langton has produced professional players like Terry Lammens and Travis Lisabeth, as well as Junior A (Maddox Callens) and Junior B (Zach VanLouwe) talent.
Registration numbers are not what they were in 1971-72, for a number of reasons, but they seem to have stabilized in recent years.
“In the last few years, I’d say the last six or so years, we’ve had some pretty innovative ideas coming from some executive members about how to bolster our registration,” said Townsend.
A significant donation from a local business also helped in that regard, giving them an opportunity to lower registration and help get kids on the ice.
“We tried that 20 years ago and yeah we got a few, but at that time we needed 15 in the IP (Initiation Program). The numbers at that time didn’t really seem to drive it home. But when we got this recent support from the community, we were able to implement some things that we really needed to get things going. Getting that money from Maricann was huge for us, it really was. We sure appreciated it. And I think you’re seeing it right now, you’re seeing it with some of these young teams.
“Plus, there are some good people,” Townsend stressed. “The numbers may be lower these days, but some of the people walking in the door that want to help are exceptionally good people.”
“That’s probably where our biggest improvement was in the lower divisions,” Demeester nodded, “where we could offer that better price. So families would take a chance on…”
“Bringing them in,” said Townsend.
The Canadian Tire JumpStart program also helped, said Townsend, allowing them to offer some free equipment.
“We were saying, ‘Just get your kids out here!’” said Townsend. “We’re not the only centre doing that, there’s lots of centres doing that. Now we have to keep them here.”
For more on Langton and Area Minor Hockey, visit their website at https://langtonminorhockey.com/.