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