By Willie T. Smith III
The Greenville News
GREENVILLE, S.C. – Rising before daybreak to prepare for a hockey game isn’t high on the list of a good time for many ECHL players.
But when the Greenville Grrrowl host the Louisiana IceGators at 10:35 a.m. today at the Bi-Lo Center in the team’s annual Education Day game, former Grrrowl player and current assistant coach Ryan Stewart says attitudes will change quickly.
“We’ve sort of been telling the guys it’s really an exciting time,” said Stewart, who played in the game the last two seasons. “At this time of the year with the playoff run, you couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere.”
At least 4,000 Upstate elementary, middle school and high school students are expected to attend the game, ramping up the numbers and noise from what more typically might be a crowd of 2,000. This is the third year the Grrrowl have held the game, which is co-sponsored by the Newspapers in Education program.
“Once you step out for warm-ups, there are thousands of kids already in the stands and they will be going nuts,” Stewart said. “That gets your adrenaline going right away.”
Ware Shoals Elementary School, which was represented by 25 students in 2004, will send 285 this year.
“We’re bringing out the entire school,” Ware Shoals guidance counselor Christie Bouchillon said. “Only 10 students are staying back. I took a small group last year — our student council, which consists of about 20 children, and we had five chaperones. We really liked it and a lot of teachers really like it.”
The students will receive educational packets tied to hockey. During intermission, Grrrowl players from different countries will be interviewed to give the students a perspective about those players’ homes.
But foremost, it will be a day of fun for many kids who will catch a hockey game for the first time.
Simpsonville Elementary School teacher Becky Spivey will bring the school’s entire fourth-grade class, building on a tradition that began even before Education Day.
“Three years ago was the first one,” Spivey said. “… All of us here, the teachers especially, were hockey fans. We decided it would be a good time. Four or five years ago, before they started this, I took one of my fourth or fifth grade classes to a Sunday game. When they started Education Day, I jumped on it because we really enjoyed the hockey game.”
While middle and elementary schools will make up the majority of those in attendance, some high schools also will be involved.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for a fun, educational day,” said Mann High special education teacher Amy Wylie. “We are bringing about 30 kids. Every day they are asking about Tuesday, the 15th and the Greenville Grrrowl game.”