By Steve Silvey, IHSHL President – For those of us blessed to be participants, we know we have special, second families called a hockey family. George Hayes was an example of what it means to be part of that extended community. George died over the weekend, quietly, and too soon.
Normally information of a hockey member’s passing would be news shared around the rinks serving as second homes during playoffs this time of year. Not now. Hockey rinks are closed and the world around us is cut off with rules of social distancing in place. Forced away and left to appreciate our community in that gap, we offer a remote tribute to a hockey family man.
I met George in the late ‘90’s. Coaching a high school team, we were called to a board meeting for an alleged Rules & Ethics violation over the dreaded “7 up – 7 down” rule. I said “alleged” because George was both ahead of his time and behind the time for dramatically different reasons. He was ahead of his time because we found out that in the Suburban League, George’s league, there wasn’t any “7 down”. Unless it was a matter of survival, varsity players didn’t play down in his league then. It wasn’t fair to Junior Varsity players. We also found out that George was passionate for Junior Varsity hockey. He was even more passionate about what was fair for the game and his players. He knew every one of his teams and their players. He knew if there was an imbalance somewhere in his domain.
I said “alleged”, because we were sent packing with a lesson that we carry on over 20 years later. George told us flat out that platooning 18 year old varsity players down to junior varsity to win games didn’t happen in the Suburban League. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. That was the end of that. Then at the end of the meeting, George recruited me to join his Executive Board with Judge Bob Stevenson and Bobbi Stoll. He said I needed to be on the other side of the table helping the whole league, not just one team. He started taking me to AHAI High School Committee meetings with him – to take notes. Then he stopped going and sent me (made me) go as league representative. Along the way, George recruited Ron Abels, Dave Zednik, Rick Kromeich, Kate Belle and Annie Glaske.
He was ahead of his time recruiting people complimentary to his skill set, and it didn’t matter if you were boy or girl, man or woman. George had girls playing high school hockey early – because it was fair.
He was ahead of his time with the business organization of his league. With wife Karen, he originally created the entity as a not-for-profit ahead of the now common guidance from USA Hockey and AHAI about structuring a youth sports league. He had regular monthly and quarterly meetings with an agenda and transparent participation from all member clubs, because that was right. The foundation that George laid over 40 years ago is now the modern operating umbrella for high school hockey in the form of the IHSHL covering the increasing complexities of youth sports today.
He was ahead of the times monitoring the competitive environment of his teams. League seasons were structured with an early seeding round of games and then re-balancing to minimize skill disparity from session to session. Using positive reinforcement to discourage fighting, George was an early adopter of adding an automatic additional sanction at the league level. Also ahead of the curve, George addressed the scourge of “senioritis”, widening responsibility for that particular problem to coaches, then the clubs and imposing an escrow fine structure.
He was ahead of his time bringing referees into the day-to-day operations of the league and board. The communication minimized the natural tension between league coaches, players and parents. Bob Stevenson, Dave Zednik, Bill Fehrman, Don Allord, and Bob McPherson among others all helped George with scheduling and an efficient rules and ethics structure complimentary to AHAI. He also streamlined game day activity with use of regular off-ice officials running the clock and penalty box – son Peter, Donnie, Steve, and Tony Zasowski (Sr).
He was begrudgingly ahead of the times setting up a league website with rules, schedules, announcements and statistics available for the world to see. I say begrudgingly because George had an endearing stubbornness about technology. He refused to use a computer as part of his daily life. Right up to the day he stepped away from running his league in 2013, you still had to fax things to George. Scoresheets got faxed, not emailed. George believed in hard copies, handouts and books.
As he pushed all of us up the hockey administration ladder, participating in state and regional activities, he’d remind us “be sure to get current copies of the books from AHAI”, meaning the annual report, rules and bylaws. If it wasn’t in the book, it didn’t count.
Exact dates are lost now, but George started the Illinois Suburban Hockey League and its precursors – the Iliana Hockey League and West Suburban JV League at a time when there wasn’t a book for high school hockey in Illinois. The story goes that he wrangled some kind of relationship with the WHA Chicago Cougars that played at the International Amphitheater. Called the Cougar Cup, the league trophy is one of the oldest continuous awards in the state. Lyons Township Hockey Club won the first trophy in 1973-74.
From a foundation to provide a place for junior varsity players to enjoy high school hockey, George grew the league into one of the largest in the state at times. He allowed thousands of young men and women to become part of the hockey family. George was inducted into the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.
Again ahead of his time, in 2012 George began taking steps toward the future. He led the way restructuring the ISHL and reviving the Illinois High School Hockey League as an umbrella organization to help bring business and risk management efficiencies to the next generation.
In 2013, George retired from high school hockey. Honoring his decades of selfless contribution, along with the support of his wife and sons, the IHSHL Suburban Division unanimously voted to rename itself the “Hayes Suburban Division”. From the league announcement in 2013: “George … always had a love of the JV player and with that in mind the Hayes Division will also name its JV Champion trophy the Hayes Cup,” said Ron Abels, then President of the Hayes Division… we will miss George’s hockey leadership and perseverance, and wish him well in his future challenges, and his retirement”.
Thank you and God bless you, George. Put it in the book. You made it count. Your hockey family will miss you, but you left the Hayes Suburban Division in good hands.
Board of Directors, Hayes Suburban Division, IHSHL
Rules & Ethics