By Tamas Mondovics

Thanks to a new initiative by the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, area students now have the opportunity to learn and play street hockey under the direction of a well-equipped crew of instructors, including USA Hockey certified coaches and NHL veterans.

Appropriately named Street Lightning, the initiative is supported by JP Morgan Chase and founded by the Lightning organization as well as the NHL.

The year-round effort to grow awareness and appreciation for the sport throughout Tampa Bay is possible thanks to a partnership between Hillsborough County Public Schools, and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Tampa YMCA has also joined the partnership, allowing for the clinic to reach hundreds of children associated with the Y’s after school program at more than 30 sites, YMCA branches and public elementary schools combined.

Close to 50 Alafia Elementary School students—all members of the YMCA after school program—had a chance to experience the program last month as they took part in the Lightning’s Mobile Street Hockey Clinic hosted on school campus.

During the two-hour clinic, the children clearly enjoyed learning the rules of the game, teamwork and sportsmanship through team participation, while the skilled instructors incorporated the rules of math and science into the various hockey lessons.

“The clinic does much more than just teach kids the game of street hockey,” said Josh Dreith one of the five instructors on hand. “The lessons, as well as the time we spend with them, help boost their confidence, make new friends and gain new positive adult role models.”

Dreith added that most kids who take part in the clinic have never been exposed to the game of street hockey.

To be sure that the children and the participating schools reap all the benefits, the Lightning staff does not leave the campus empty handed. Students receive a street hockey stick and a ball, all of which is in harmony with the program’s two-fold approach: Stick in Hands and Teach the Teachers.

“Within the last three months, we have visited 52 schools and given out more than 11,000 hockey sticks,” Dreith said.

To complete the program’s Teach the Teachers element, the clinic is well on its way to equip 500 elementary physical education teachers with the basics of street hockey and equip each school with a full set of street hockey gear. For more information, visit www.lightning.nhl.com.