If you follow Orlando City B, you may have noticed an odd scheduling for a pair of upcoming road games. The team’s game against Toronto FC II on Wednesday will kick off at noon and its match on Tuesday, June 20 against the Ottawa Fury will kick off at 11 a.m. But there is a good reason for these unusual midweek game times.
For years, minor league hockey teams around North America have been participating in “School Day Games.” Young students from around the region get to leave the classroom and attend a sporting event where they learn how to lead a healthy, active lifestyle and why that is important, all while becoming new, young fans and teaching learning about the sport. Now that tradition carries over into the USL.
The Ottawa 67’s, a junior hockey team from the Ontario Hockey League, has been hosting the event since 2009. “It gives us a chance to promote the development of important character traits like perseverance, cooperation, and achievement,” 67’s owner Jeff Hunt told the team’s website during the inaugural event. “To engage the kids in physical fitness activities, and to showcase other fun and interesting education displays with a backdrop of a fast-paced, meaningful, regular season game. And can you imagine what it’ll be like for the players with so many young fans in the stand cheering them on? It’ll be a game they’ll remember for a very long time.”
The Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, the highest level of minor league hockey, have also taken part in this promotion annually over the past few years. Last year, the promotion expanded to minor league basketball, where the NBDL’s Raptors 905 hosted a “School Day Game” at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Last year was also the first time that the event reached Central Florida, making its debut in Orlando with the Orlando Solar Bears of the East Coast Hockey League. But the event had an additional purpose for the Solar Bears, which are affiliated with both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies. “We’ve contemplated doing a School Day Game for some time,” team Chairman Joe Haleski told the team website about the event at the time. “We’ve established relationships with several school districts in the region, and this game will allow us to introduce many local children to their first-ever hockey game.”
Now this promotion, which has been so successful in hockey’s minor leagues, will make its debut in professional soccer with OCB taking part in School Day Games in both Toronto and Ottawa. “The 67’s School Day Games have become a resounding success and we can’t wait to grow the same experience with Fury FC,” club President John Pugh recently told the club’s website. “We’ve seen the passion students have for soccer from our various in-school programs, so the atmosphere on June 20 is going to be unlike anything we’ve seen at a Fury match.”
For the two Canadian clubs to host this worthy, community-oriented event, they needed the approval of both the USL and Orlando City. The USL approved the unusual events and Orlando City agreed to allow the kickoff times.
So if you’re planning on watching these two upcoming midweek, lunchtime kickoffs, you may notice a bit of a different atmosphere than usual. Rather than raucous supporters groups creating an intimidating atmosphere for the opposition, it will be thousands of school children learning about soccer and living a healthy lifestyle. This may be something that becomes a tradition among other USL teams in the near future.