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A local hockey team has received national recognition.
The Muskegon Lumberjacks were named the United States Hockey League Organization of the Year. The award is given to an organization that has demonstrated excellence on and off the ice. The 17 team presidents vote on which organization receives the USHL award.
Last year, the Lumberjacks completely remodeled the city-owned L.C. Walker Arena where they play their home games.
“We put in new floorings, new walls, new seating areas,” Mike McCall, Muskegon Lumberjacks president, said. “We put in some (new) suites, some executive suites. We put in a club area, which includes all-inclusive food and beverages, and then we created a pavilion area that is geared toward singles.”
The pavilion area also has 14 big-screen TVs that will be tuned to other sporting events.
“So, when people are at our games, they can watch other things,” he said. “The kids’ zone has been really popular. We created an area where we have someone who works there every night and takes care of the kids. They have arts and crafts usually based on our promotion that night, whether it’s St. Patrick’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Military Day, and we also have a face-painter in there, too. The whole idea is to have something for everybody and that is what we have really done.”
McCall said the organization also makes its presence felt in the community through the Jacks Foundation, which focuses on helping youth through their commitment to reading. The foundation established the Jacks Reading Caravan, where players from the team visit classrooms. More than 40 schools have participated.
“The players go into (the classrooms) and read with the kids and we offer prizes and incentives for them, in conjunction with teachers, using books that they use during the school year,” he said. “We also give them prizes to come to a game. That has been a great program.”
Of the team’s 62 regular season games, one game is dedicated to all the youth in the program. Over 3,000 kids attend that game, he said, and there is a standing-room-only for other fans who attend that game.
The team’s attendance increased last year, as well. McCall said about 84,000 fans watched Lumberjacks games last year, compared to approximately 70,000 the prior year.
“The commitment that the city made to completely remodel the arena has really made a difference,” he said. “It gave a lift to the marketplace. Our attendance was up about 20% last year and that is a big jump for one year, and it really brought new fans into the arena because our goal is to create something for everybody.”