Mary Anne Veroba’s time as the president/chairperson of the Saskatchewan Hockey Association (SHA) was certainly ground-breaking and eventful.
Veroba’s seven-year run at the helm of the SHA’s board came to an end during the organization’s annual general meeting last month. She had decided at the start of her final two-year term that she would not seek re-election.
The Lampman resident was the first female president in the history of the SHA, which traces its roots back more than 100 years. Veroba recalled that when she was interviewed by the local media in 2013 about becoming president, she hoped that when her granddaughters are old enough to be on boards and do volunteer work, that having female board presidents is a more common occurrence.
“There are a lot of females who are involved with their local minor hockey associations. It’s something that has evolved locally. I hope it’s more common to see females on provincial and even national boards,” she told the Mercury.
Prior to becoming the SHA president, she had been on the board since 2000, serving as the Zone 1 (southeast) representative and in other capacities.
“When we first got on the board, we were trying to see how we could engage the membership, the MHAs (minor hockey associations) and the league better. And so a highlight has been conversion to zone meetings, that we hold meetings in each zone, so that one people don’t have to travel to one central place in the province.”
Engagement and input from members has improved through the zone meetings, she said.
The Sask. First program, which identifies top young players in the province’s bantam and midget age groups, is also much stronger.
And she has enjoyed being part of the different committees with Hockey Canada.
The SHA has worked to improve relationships with its referee division, and they have made changes to their governance.
“When I went on (the board), we had a president and two vice-presidents and chairs of different groups … and we changed it to have a chair and a group of officers who deal with the business in between board meetings.”
A lot of work goes on behind the scenes.
The changes made to the initiation age group, in which they play cross-ice instead of using the full ice surface, have been very rewarding. Veroba believes that will be very positive for kids, and keep them loving and playing the game.
She also has fond memories of a tournament at the Ochapowace First Nations. Five different First Nations were present, and it was -30 C outside. Some of the kids had never been on ice before, but they were thrilled to be on the ice, and Veroba found the kids’ attitudes to be inspiring.
A greater focus on skill development, practices and coaching have all happened in recent years.
“Research shows that the most important thing to keep kids in the game is that they have fun, and one of the things that makes kids have fun is a coach that they can relate to. And not necessarily the high-skilled coach, but the coach that makes them have fun and makes it great to come to practice and great to play on a team,” said Veroba.
She decided not to seek another year at the helm of the SHA because she believes it’s good for boards to have new members, and she was ready to move on.
“I think the board and the SHA are in good hands,” said Veroba. “These times have been unique, of course, with COVID, and having to stop hockey, so there are a lot of interesting things happening right now.”
The SHA ruled on March 12 that all of its sanctioned leagues and provincial play would come to an end due to the pandemic, a tough decision since playoffs were underway.
Veroba didn’t have any second thoughts about her decision to step down as board chair, even after the pandemic hit. This isn’t how she envisioned her seven-year tenure on the board coming to an end.
“We did a lot of virtual meetings. It takes a bit to get used to that, but I think you can be efficient on the virtual meeting as well. It’s a new experience,” she said.
But she also knows she is leaving the board in good hands. Timothy Hubic of Weyburn is the new board president.
“We have good, engaged board members and I think hockey is in good hands,” said Veroba.
Veroba expects to remain involved with the game. She is a former president of Lampman Minor Hockey, and believes Lampman now has a good group of young people. She expects it will be an interesting year to see how things unfold, and she knows that people are eager to get back into the rinks.