The second thing you notice is the ATM machine.
First, though, there is the shock of setting. Head out the Trans-Canada Highway toward the Alberta Foothills, turn right at Tractorland Inc., pass by a field of lassoing early-winter snow and behold:
This is where hockey now lives.
This is Edge School for Athletes, a 170,000 square-foot structure that includes two NHL-size rinks, two NBA-size basketball courts, dance studios, golf centre, sprint track, soccer fields, elite coaches in multiple disciplines, certified teachers, a resident sports psychologist and a full-time physiotherapist in the sports medicine section, a regular visit from the chiropractor and a cafeteria where the Pepsi machines glow brightly but hold nothing even remotely to do with debatable dietary habits.
This year, there are 315 youngsters registered at Edge School, which began in 1999 with only seven students, and today operates out of a new facility which has been assessed at $43-million. Two hundred of the students are in the hockey program, with dance being next most popular for the Grades 5 to 12 curriculum the school says revolves around the triple themes of academic, athletic and character.
Tuition costs $15,000, with additional costs for, say, the hockey program raising that annual fee up to $22,500 and as high as $27,500.
Even so, parents are disappointed when their youngster fails to be granted acceptance. Inquiries come in from around the country and even the world, to a point where the school hopes within three years to build a residence, bringing the cost of sending a youngster to Grade 5 roughly in line with having him or her attend an Ivy League college in the United States.
Edge School makes no apologies for the cost and claims one out of every five of its students gets some form of financial assistance.
“This,” chief executive officer Cam Hodgson says, “is a major focus of the fundraising.”
Hodgson, a former University of Calgary football player who had brief stays in the CFL and who ran Calgary’s National Sports School prior to coming to Edge, concedes the cost of playing hockey has risen profoundly since Gordie Howe was given a pair of second-hand skates in Floral, Sask., and significantly since Wayne Gretzky skated on Walter’s backyard rink in Brantford, Ont.
“Hockey is expensive,” Hodgson says. “Is it too expensive? The last place that I worked with a lot of alpine skiers whose families were paying $25,000 a year for them to ski race before they had purchased equipment. Elite divers? The cost of pool time and elite coaching and travel – you’re probably looking at over $20,000. Same in gymnastics and synchronized swimming.
“Sports is expensive.”
It is also increasingly exclusive. Howe could have been a baseball star. Gretzky played lacrosse and ball. There is next-to-no cross-sport played at Edge, with the exception of some of the hockey players also liking golf.
“Go back even 20 years,” Hodgson says, “and the number of kids involved in a wide variety of sports seems to have evolved into just one.”
While he personally believes in the advantages a variety of games bring to each other, he says, in today’s world, where on-ice training is only part of the regimen, “it’s a challenge to fit that in while you’re training in whatever sport you’re dedicated to.
“In every sport now you get channelled at a young age. If you’re a soccer player and you’re showing promise, you’re also playing indoor soccer through the winter. That’s a family decision you have to make.”
Because many of the children are so young, it is family who make most of the decisions concerning their time at Edge School. Hodgson says he encounters parents who want their child dedicated to one thing only, becoming an elite player, but “we try to bring balance.”
There is the resident sports psychologist, and teacher mentoring groups exist to deal with issues beyond the playing field.