[SPOKANE, Wash.] Two days a week, Regan Wiles heads to training with the Spokane Chiefs hockey team. He walks past the ice rink, goes into a makeshift classroom and settles in for his English 101 class with Spokane Community College.
It is his fourth year with the team, and this is the first year that the class has been offered. Run by SCC, the five-credit class is catered specifically for the Chiefs’ players and works around their playing schedule. It typically meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays for 90 minutes, except when the Chiefs are away playing a game. To make up for this, the program runs from September through March. Class is held at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena where the Chiefs train, so they don’t have to commute to the college.
“Coming to the rink and then having the professor handy right away has been an awesome experience,” said Wiles, who is a defenseman with the team. “Just the flexibility we have and being able to work around our schedule, it's been great.”
The Chiefs general manager, Matt Bardsley, approached SCC to form a partnership. The resulting program is a collaboration between the SCC academic and the Community Colleges of Spokane’s Corporate & Continuing Education divisions. Many of the players don’t pursue a college education while on the team, but Bardsley values education and made the classes mandatory. Plus, the Chiefs pay for their players’ education, making it more accessible.
“The general manager is a big believer in having kids stay in school,” said Larry Brunt, SCC’s adjunct English instructor, who teaches some of the team’s players. “This is a great way for them to be able to stay in a classroom and work toward college while still being able to pursue hockey.”
Brunt teaches 12 players – ages 18-20 – which is about half of the team. The remaining players are in high school and have a tutor. Currently, a college-age player can be in the league for three or four years before going back to school full-time.
“Some of us haven't done school since high school, so it's a big change to start school again,” Wiles said. “As a 20-year-old looking at schools as an option next year, it really helps me with credits and gets me back into a routine of doing school again. It's really putting me in a great routine to go forward.”
SCC’s English 101 course focuses mainly on reading and writing essays. Sometimes a topic is centered around social media, TV media and advertising, which Brunt said works well because “they have experience with those things.”
According to Brunt, some of the players were intimidated by taking a college class. However, Brunt is also the team’s photographer, so he already had a relationship with the players, which put them more at ease.
“That was just a fun little coincidence,” he said. “I get to know them in a much more meaningful way. I tell them that they’re much better writers than I am a hockey player.”
According to Joe Everson, the Chiefs education advisor, the Chiefs and SCC are in discussions to have another class next year. And SCC’s Dean of Arts and Sciences, Gwendolyn Cash-James, said they are trying to develop a calendar that would offer different classes, so the players could reach 20 credits over four years. Credits are currently transferable to other colleges, including in Canada, where many of the players – including Wiles – are from.
Everson said the SCC and the Chiefs partnership is viewed in the Western Hockey League as an innovative model.
“This partnership is another great example of how the Community Colleges of Spokane Corporate & Continuing Education Division can provide responsive, flexible and customized training to meet the needs of organizations in our community. I want to thank the Chiefs and SCC leadership for their partnership in coming up with an innovative solution to support the Chiefs’ players while they are living, playing and now studying as Sasquatch in our community!” said Alissa Muñoz, the Interim Executive Director of Corporate and Continuing Education for the Community Colleges of Spokane.
It’s also good for team morale. “It connects them more deeply to the greater Spokane community,” Cash-James said. “Plus, it bonds the players together for a learning opportunity beyond playing together.”
Wiles agrees that the classes help him feel closer to his teammates: “We’re doing school together and working on homework together. It's awesome all-around.”
For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Strategic Communications Manager, Rachel Román, at Rachel.email@example.com or Alissa Muñoz at Alissa.firstname.lastname@example.org.
CCS provides education and services in a six-county region of Eastern Washington, operates Spokane Falls Community College and Spokane Community College and is the largest provider of Head Start and Early Childhood Education in the region. Each year, nearly 30,000 people – from infants to senior citizens – are provided educational services by CCS.