New college hockey task force aims for better-educated student-athletes

Leon Hayward
Courtesy of Colorado College Athletics Leon Hayward

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), after its annual spring meetings, established a Student-Athlete Well-Being Task Force for this season. Its primary mission is to discuss ways for student-athletes to become better informed and enlightened on various topics.

The seventh-year, eight-team NCHC has since its inception prided itself on being innovative and groundbreaking, and the Student-Athlete Task Force is another example of this. The group consists of two athletic directors, two coaches, two faculty athletics representatives, and a designee school president or chancellor along with NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton.

They held three conference calls with task force members throughout the summer with an initial focus on (1) sportsmanship and conduct and (2) diversity and inclusion.

Fenton, during the NCHC’s annual Media Day in September, exclusively shared with the MSR his vision on the Task Force. “We have a responsibility to help educate the student-athletes through topics and issues,” he said. “Student-athletes are faced with different types of issues on a day-to-day basis. One of the things I think is going to be very important is diversity and inclusion.” 

Beginning this season, each NCHC member school is required to conduct annual diversity and inclusion training for all men’s ice hockey program members and report to the Commissioner’s Office that the appropriate training has occurred. Also, the NCHC’s Sportsmanship Policy is read aloud prior to each game and played on the arena’s videoboard.

Colorado College Assistant Coach Leon Hayward is one of the two coaches’ representatives on the task force. Hayward talked to the MSR after last Saturday’s CC-St. Cloud State contest in St. Cloud. 

“It’s always difficult to meet in the summer when everybody is busy…difficult to get together,” he reported. “It’s about helping all these players and their process, and making it a better experience for them.”

Hayward is the only Black member on the NCHC Student-Athlete Task Force. He and Nebraska Omaha Assistant Coach Paul Jerrard are the league’s only Black coaches.

“There are so many issues that affect student-athletes,” Hayward said. “I believe that was Josh’s goal, to help all of our players and all of our teams to be better equipped to handle a variety of things. It was a good experience for me going through that process, and we are continuing to do the work. It has been real effective.”

“The plan is to add student-athletes’ input and perspective” on the Task Force in the near future, Fenton noted. “I do expect the Task Force to tackle other topics in the future,” including mental health and sexual assault issues.

Now in his third year at Colorado College, Hayward told us that he loves the challenges that college hockey brings. “I work with great people. I played for [CC Head Coach] Mike Haviland. There’s just a comfort level with the conference, the level of play here,” he stressed. “It’s been great for me.”

Hayward’s goal of being a college head coach one day is still there, but he admits he isn’t in any rush. “I feel that I work with great people, and you always want to work with great people, whether as a head coach or an assistant coach. Now I’m just trying to learn every day, and I learn from Harvey and [Assistant Coach] R.J. [Enga] every day.

“I think our staff work really hard, and we help our players to work really hard. Everything is intensified at the Division I college level.”