Warner Hockey School

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''I have the opportunity to become a better player, student, and person through everything that is offered in this program.''
- Jade Walsh, High school student and Warner Hockey Team Goalie ''Without the hockey school there would be no school for my sons to graduate from.'' - Keith Heppler, son of Bob Heppler, father of Dylan ''Warner School provided me with a job and will keep the community alive for my own children.'' - Becky Doenz, teacher at Warner School ''I get to see my grandsons graduate because the program saved our school.'' - Bob Heppler, Equipment Manager and lifelong Warner resident ''I got to graduate from the same school as all my family.'' - Cesalee Herbst, Warner resident in the graduating class of 2010 ''The Hockey school is creating jobs and viability to our school and adds new life to our town.'' - Bruce Doenz, Warner farmer ''This project is keeping the school in Warner and keeping Warner on the map.'' - Doug Neal, Warner Hockey School Bus Driver ''It is where my heart is. It has shaped me not only as a player and person, but inspires and motivates me to do the best I can in everything I do.'' - Heather Berzins, High school student and Warner Hockey Team Left Wing ''It shows every other small rural community that it can author its own fate through great ideas, hard work, and cooperation.'' - Mark Lowe, Principal of Warner School ''The girls supply the dream, we supply the rest.'' - Mikko Makela, Head Coach of Warner Hockey Team ''My heart said “get a team together and make a difference”.'' - Sandra Nelson, A Warner change agent ''Warner Hockey School has been able to catch the imagination of not only its community members, but the hopes and dreams of so many aspiring young female hockey players.'' - Shelly Thomas, Administration Assistant ''This program has allowed me to continue working in the community of Warner.'' - Vicki O'Donnell, Residence Manager

How do you save a dying town in the Alberta prairies?

In 2001, Warner’s high school was in danger of closing because of low enrollment.

Rural high schools:

  • Engage the youth
  • Bring teachers and jobs
  • Act as a point of pride for the community

Warner residents knew that if their school left, businesses and infrastructure would soon follow.

There was only one way to keep their school open and their town alive: higher enrollment.

Could hockey save the town?

The town had renovated an old grain storage elevator into a rejuvenated ice rink. Hockey is a huge part of prairie life, and Warner’s rink supported the needs of many surrounding communities.

Inspired by Big Sky thinking, Warner hatched a plan to save its school, and its town, with the sport it loved.

A hockey-based school was nothing new, but Warner had a way to make theirs different. Canada has the best women hockey players in the world, but few schools were dedicated to female youth development.

It was decided: Warner would increase its high school’s enrollment, and prevent it from closing, by creating a premiere women’s hockey school.

Can a small prairie town compete with big city hockey?

Warner put its future into an untested model of growth. Even though Warner had a great rink, it still needed funding to create:

  • A coaching team
  • An innovative curriculum
  • Dressing rooms
  • Medical and support staff
  • Student housing
  • Travel support

With their future unsure, Warner dedicated 32,000 volunteer hours to get the school going.

When the program was set up, enrollment followed. The school also came at an opportune time:

Excitement for women’s hockey was boiling

after with the Canadian women’s national team had won gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The U.S. had mandated that colleges must provide an equal number of funded spaces for female and male athletes. Knowing there may be a future in their sport beyond high school boosted women’s passion for hockey.  

In 2008, the Rural Alberta Development Fund provided $534,000 that Warner used to hire top coaches, skilled trainers, and extensive support staff.

The funding took Warner’s already impressive school to the next level.

What does progress look like?

Progress looks like the Doenz family.

Laura Marie Doenz is a full-time teacher's assistant and mother whose family has been a part of the Warner farming community since Adam Doenz homesteaded their farm in 1917. Laura volunteered to help build the hockey school program that would save her town, and keep her family together.

Laura Marie’s son, Adam, wanted to continue farming the land that had been tilled by his father, and grandfather. But, Adam and Laura Marie both knew that without a local high school it would be almost impossible to raise the next generation of Doenz’s on their Warner homestead.

Laura Marie’s family was held together by Warner’s revitalization.
  • Adam married and took over the family farm
  • Adam’s wife got a job teaching at the Warner School
  • The Doenz’s are looking forward to a fourth generation on their homestead

The Doenz’s have worked the same soil for almost 100 years, and can stick to their plot of land for generations to come.