Steamboat Springs Matt Lettunich is almost a foot taller than the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey League skaters that zoomed past him Thursday at Howelsen Ice Arena.
With a whistle in hand, the high school senior led the league's Squirt B team through skating drills - critiquing their form, but quick to praise their hustle.
"Some of these kids are really good," Lettunich said. "There's a big range in skill."
Lettunich is one of five students interning with the league as part of Steamboat Springs High School's semester-long College and Career Prep class. Students design their own internship and secure an adult sponsor with experience in a field of the student's choice.
Mark O'Reilly is a USA Hockey coach who works with the local youth league. O'Reilly approached high school officials last spring, with an idea born after the Steamboat Springs School Board adjusted the controversial Senior Odyssey class from a mandatory, year-long affair to an optional work-study program.
Where some students saw a changed Odyssey class, O'Reilly saw a chance to get coaches.
"It's an opportunity to help a high school senior develop leadership skills and to add some youth and enthusiasm to the coaching staff," O'Reilly said.
The new coaches aren't new to the ice - students must first complete a coaching certification clinic through USA Hockey.
"When I heard about the opportunity for students to intern with us, I thought it was a great way to instill some real-world qualities," O'Reilly said.
In class, on skates
Kim Mayer, the interns' academic adviser, said students must work about 3 1/2 hours a week and accumulate between 50 to 60 work hours during the semester.
"It's about getting outside the classroom, being exposed to real world problems, challenges and experiences, and being given the autonomy and control to allow them to see what they can do," she said. "It gives them such a feeling of self-worth."
The hockey interns also meet once a week to complete reading assignments and discuss their experiences with other high school interns who work in a variety of fields, including legal services, equestrian work, teaching, accounting and medical care.
One assignment for the coaching interns is to read the memoirs of legendary college basketball coach John Wooden. The book focuses on leadership, selflessness and self-reliance.
Senior Greg Ingalls said while he looks forward to the class discussions each week, time in the classroom doesn't beat getting on the ice with youth hockey players.
"I just really like working with kids, and I do want to coach in the future," he said. "I did need some class credit and that drove it, too, but working with kids is definitely something I want to do in the future."
Miranda Schrock, 18, interns with the under-14 girls hockey team. Slap shots, defensive schemes and passing drills are only a few of the lessons she hopes to instill in her girls.
"They see us as a type of mentor and look up to us," she said. "I think they can relate to us a little bit better because we are closer to their age. It's a big responsibility and I try not to let them down."
Jeff Dawes, 18, said he didn't need the class credit. Keeping hockey in his life during the off-season motivated him to sign up for the class.
"I just really like hockey a lot," he said. "It's fun to come out here and teach them and go out there and see how much they progress."
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