Skating, studying a new path at Bridgedale Academy

By Ross Forman

Bridgedale Academy is wrapping up its fifth school-year, with 39 students in four grade-levels … and plenty of optimism for the future.

Bridgedale Academy is a private, all-boys school for athletes, all of whom are hockey players. Students receive a classical-curriculum education, using the academic curriculum of Hillsdale Academy, along with four weekday on-ice and off-ice hockey training sessions. (Fridays are academics-only.)

Bridgedale is deeply rooted in Illinois hockey history.

Meet Mike McPartlin, who has a rich history coaching locally. He was an assistant coach for six years each at Mt. Carmel and Marist High School, and the head coach for four years at Fenwick and three at Marist. He also is a former Chicago Catholic Hockey League Coach of the Year.

McPartlin’s coaching resume includes time on the bench for Barrington High School, plus years coaching AA (Flames, Huskies, Blues) and AAA (Team Illinois, Chicago Mission). He most recently coached the Chicago Mission peewee minor 2001s.

“Jeff Hill, who was my assistant coach the first two years with the Chicago Mission 88s, moved back to Calgary in 2003 and was named the first-ever coach of the Edge School for Athletes’s Prep team. I asked him to tell me about this Edge School … and a seed was planted,” McPartlin said.

Bridgedale Academy was launched in 2013, and McPartlin is the school’s headmaster.

“Our original and current goals are the same: to provide a high-level academic, athletic and personal development experience for aspiring youth hockey players,” said McPartlin, who lives in Indian Head Park. “Our students attend Bridgedale in lieu of attending their neighborhood public or private school. We give them a great education.”

Bridgedale started with 27 students and had as many as 60 (in their third year, with five grade levels). This year, Bridgedale has sixth through ninth-grade, yet going forward, it will be fifth through eighth.

“We’d like to establish Bridgedale as one of the premier schools in the country,” McPartlin said. “I believe we are building a stellar reputation for developing youngsters academically, athletically and personally. We are preparing them for their academic, athletic and personal futures.

“Most families want to prepare their children to be successful, independent, productive adults who also will be ‘capable of self-government.’  That is pretty much the American ideal.

At Bridgedale, we strive toward this American ideal for our students from three perspectives: academic, athletic and personal.”

Bridgedale uses a classical school curriculum and limits class-size to 16.

“The American education system, as a whole, has been moving away from a classical education. And the empirical evidence shows American students falling further and further behind students of other nations,” McPartlin said. “A classical curriculum has been the gold standard in Western Civilization, basically since the time of Aristotle. It is time-tested and proven as the best means of education.”

Bridgedale is one of more than 300 schools nationwide that use the curriculum of the prestigious Hillsdale Academy, located on the campus of Hillsdale College in Michigan.

“Common-sense suggests, and it is borne out in study after study, that smaller class sizes allow students to learn better,” McPartlin said. “If a student is struggling, it is identified and addressed right away. There is ‘nowhere to hide’ and we engage regularly with parents to stay abreast of each student’s academic development.”

McPartlin added that having a same-sex learning environment helps, too.

“From the athletic perspective, families should consider Bridgedale because we offer a unique opportunity to give their sons a competitive advantage,” McPartlin said.  “One of the biggest concerns among hockey people, and for good reason, is the limited ice-time available to even the high-end teams.  Most teams will only practice twice per week, and most of this practice time is dedicated to team-oriented things.  As a result, not enough time is devoted to individual skills training, a problem because hockey is an unbelievably skill-intensive sport.

“So, families are constantly looking to enroll their hockey-playing children in camps, clinics and even private lessons to supplement their individual skills development.  Bridgedale is a one-stop shop for skills development.

“Another reality is, because playing organized hockey requires such an unbelievable time investment, it is virtually impossible for most youth hockey players to play other sports. Yet sports science is clear: the better the athlete, the better the hockey player.  At Bridgedale, students get to play other sports and otherwise develop their overall athleticism in addition to developing their hockey skills.

“Interwoven through all our on-ice and off-ice sessions is the constant reinforcement of how important it is for the boys to ‘take ownership’ of their own development as athletes and as hockey players.”

The boys get athletic report cards three times per year, in addition to their academic report cards, in which the various categories of skills development are graded and a narrative evaluation/critique is included.

“From a personal perspective, the boys are expected to conduct themselves properly. They wear school uniforms, both for their academic classes and their athletic sessions, and we have high expectations for them,” he said.

“We do our best to reinforce manly virtues too, primary among them, respectfulness. We expect the boys to respect themselves first and foremost. This means being honest with themselves. We expect them to respect their parents, teachers, coaches and classmates.  We expect them to respect what it takes to set goals, and what it takes to achieve goals.  We expect them to consistently do the little things right, like standing up to shake hands and looking people in the eye, holding the door for people and offering to help in appropriate circumstances.

“We try to get them to understand that they are what they habitually do.”

McPartlin noted that there is a compete level that pervades all aspects of the Bridgedale experience. He also said that there is strong camaraderie among the students.

Bridgedale has a contract with 200×85 LLC, to conduct its on-ice and off-ice training. Kevin Mann, a member of the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame, is the founder of 200×85 and also the Chicago Mission.

Justin Lewandowski and Michal Pivonka have been Bridgedale’s main on-ice coaches for the past two years, along with Mark Roy and Oliver Freij. Others who have coached Bridgedale students include Anders Sorensen, Greg Tam, Brian Mueller, Rocky Saganiuk, John Varga, Tommy Boudreau, Yevgeny Martynov and Nick Anderson.

Bridgedale Academy does not field teams, so its student-athletes play for local club teams.  “We have had a couple of students who, while in high school with us, were eligible to play for their district public school and did so,” McPartlin said.

“The focus of our on-ice training sessions is skills, both physical and thinking, (and) development.”

Bridgedale has already had 11 former or present students make Division I college commitments.  Three from Bridgedale have played the last two years with the National Team Development Program and will be entering college next year as true freshmen, two at Notre Dame and one at Michigan.

On the academic side, Bridgedale has sent students to attend such prominent high schools as Culver Military Academy, Lake Forest Academy, Shattuck St. Mary’s, Benet Academy, Fenwick, St. Ignatius, Latin School of Chicago, Marmion Academy, Loyola Academy, Providence Catholic and more.

For more about Bridgedale Academy, go to:

Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at

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