Without a doubt, members of the Hamilton College men’s hockey team are tough. Throughout the season, they face the rigors of the game, the physical stresses of practice and hard collisions, the mental challenges of balancing sport and school.
For the team, though, the game of hockey is much more than just the challenges of the daily grind. At its core, hockey is a sport of fellowship. It transcends simple competition, forming lifelong bonds based upon mutual respect and a love for the game. For Hamilton’s men’s hockey team, the Breaking Bread program epitomizes this concept.
The Breaking Bread program creates an incredible opportunity for team members to establish and strengthen their relationship with the Clinton community through the medium of hockey. The program unites Clinton Youth Hockey families with members of the Hamilton Men’s Hockey Team. Each year beginning in early November, every volunteer family accepts two Hamilton hockey players into their homes, providing the team members with the very thing college kids want most: delicious home-cooked meals.
For Hamilton’s men’s hockey, though, the program provides much more than just the benefits of a full stomach. The Breaking Bread program establishes a support system for the players, a home-away-from-home founded on common interests and a true love for the game. Many of the players return to the same family year after year, forming a truly special bond with their host family.
Tyler Lovejoy ’16 experienced this bond firsthand, “I have been with the same family (the Eisenhuts) since my freshman year and have grown extremely close with them. They immediately welcomed me into their home and made me feel comfortable.”
Likewise, for team member Bennett Hambrook ’17, the program takes on a deep and personal meaning: “The passion for hockey is remarkable in Clinton and, as Hamilton hockey players, getting to be a part of that allows us not only to reminisce about our youth hockey days but build new memories with our families as we watch their love for the game grow, just as ours did.”
The Breaking Bread program provides the invaluable chance for the members of the team to inspire others around them, especially the children within the host families. Indeed, the benefits of the program extend far beyond Hamilton men’s hockey team. Not only do the players receive a second family, the children within the youth hockey leagues receive a teacher, a mentor and a coach. Perhaps most important of all, however, is that the children gain a big brother. Through their actions, both on and off the rink, the team members help to instill within the kids the values of hard work and dedication, as well as an admiration for the sport of hockey.
“I started playing hockey when I was six years old because I wanted to be like the older guys who lived next door to me,” recalled Lovejoy, reflecting on the importance of older role models. “The families come to our games and we do our best to attend their games in town.”
He, along with the other members of the men’s hockey team, understands the impact that the players have on the kids’ lives, since many of the team members were once encouraged by older mentors themselves.
More than anything, the boys and girls within the families look up to the players. “The boys are my biggest fans and I try to be theirs too,” remarked Hambrook. “In addition to the first dinner, we have a reception during the season for our families to meet our Breaking Bread families, and we invite the kids to skate with us after a game,” Lovejoy added.
To say that the Breaking Bread program is making a difference within Clinton would be an understatement. While it may appear to be a simple outreach program between Hamilton athletes and the surrounding community, in reality the Breaking Bread Program is much more. The program is transforming lives, building strong emotional ties between student athletes and supportive families, with hockey as the base and foundation.
“It's a blessing for me and others,” declared Hambrook. “Our experiences at Hamilton would not be the same without this program.”