The History of JMS

by barbaragarn

I’m writing in an altered state: numb from numbers.

I finished the JMS tax prep today — or at least I hope I did. Those of you who know me know I lean towards words, not numbers. I’ll find out on April 1 (yes, getting taxes done on April Fool’s Day!) if I got it right. Thank you to Kirk Nelson, accountant extraordinaire and member of the AHA C2 Ak Bars. Not only has Kirk been patient with my innumeracy for years, but he’s the one who begged me to sit down for official tax prep in the first place. I don’t even want to think about all the money I was wasting on un-deducted stuff before Kirk set me straight.

There’s a ton to keep track of–postage, puck purchases, site hosting and design, not to mention ice rental costs, well over $100,000 this year. Seriously, I have GOT to get Quickbooks or something.

But up to my ears in receipts and invoices, I started to think back over tax year 2008, and then even further back to the beginnings of JMS.

I went through the AHA beginner school in early 2002. Jen Miles was in our beginner school and her children played hockey; she knew the mysteries of renting ice! Before our beginner school was over, Jen had booked ice at Highland and Breck.

When my ex-husband was going through the beginner school that fall, I felt bad because his team didn’t have the opportunity mine did: unstructured rental ice to whack the puck around, without getting smoked by better players. “Someone,” I mused, “should get that going for your team.”

Nobody did, and felt so strongly that beginners needed safe ice time that I called the cheapest rink I knew of: Brooklyn Park. They had “fire sale ice;” if you used it in the same week you booked it, it was half price. That’s partly why I still list icetimes only one week ahead–that and I don’t want anyone to get confused between THIS Friday and NEXT Friday. (I think a future site augmentation will include a month-by-month listing of JMS offerings, handy for scheduling.)

The first night at Brooklyn Park, we had only FIVE people: a goalie, his friend, Brian Claypool, me and my boyfriend. Ice was $120 and I charged everyone–even me and my boyfriend, even the goalie, boy was he mad!–$20.

I kept booking ice and I went to the AHA beginner school to advertise. And people started spreading the news of JMS by word of mouth. I’ve never officially advertised, though that’s something I’m looking into for the future as well, of course.

I booked on Friday nights since the only ice I could get was available late and I figured folks were more likely to come if they knew they could sleep late the next day. And it grew. And grew.

I had some $8 software from the bargain bin at Office Depot and I used my desktop publishing background to throw together a site so people could track upcoming icetimes and see who was signed up to play. I got e-mails to my personal account and added names to the list, uploading the page after each person said she or he would be there.

I remember watching skaters at Polar Arena, maybe the fall of 2004. And I realized that one 90-minute session was not enough. Some of the players were brand new and others were more experienced. I knew I’d have to separate them.

So I started calling one session “beginner” and the other “advanced beginner” (which, shockingly, the skaters soon abbreviated to the cooler sounding “advanced”). And the numbers kept growing, and I had to add more sessions (“intermediate”). Of course, nobody wanted to be called a “beginner,” not after skating three whole months! So I kept having to rename the levels, joking that eventually the highest one would be called “Studly Hockey Gods of the Universe.” I’ll forever be indebted to Charles Marais, who said, “You will never win. Start using numbers.” He was so right.

And then I started booking ice with actual CONTRACTS, instead of calling the week before to see what was available. And then, after people asked for one, I made a punch card (remember those little green cards?). Nancy Countryman, who was so helpful when JMS was starting (first JMS captain ever–she made it possible for me to have sessions at more than one rink) used her laminating machine and made batch after batch of punch cards.

But I was going crazy trying to keep up with all the e-mails from people asking to sign up. One day in 2006 I was bemoaning this in the locker room and Nick Cooper said, “I could write an app that would do that for you.” And he did, and lo it was wonderful. I didn’t have to keep putting names on by myself, uploading again and again after adding each batch.

I can’t remember when I added it, but having the deposit made a HUGE difference. I was getting killed by the folks who would send an e-mail asking to play and then I’d hold a spot… and they wouldn’t show up. I stopped hemorrhaging money after adding the deposit; later we changed things so the site deducted skaters’ accounts when they signed up. Oh, the techmologies!

And all the while, JMS was growing as people told their friends, colleagues and associates. A writer from the Pioneer Press did an article about women playing hockey and featured JMS in her piece. I branched out to St. Paul and up to Plymouth. And the skaters kept coming. I got some loaner goalie gear and people started giving me their old gear to use for brand-newbies.

In 2007, Andy Baird had a vision for new functionalities for the website and he created a true online community that reflects the JMS spirit and experience. He devotes so much of his time to conceptualizing features that will fit the community’s needs; I am always astounded and humbled by his incredible efforts.

It all seems a blur. I arrived in Minnesota in May 1999, having seen only two hockey games in my life. Who would have guessed that 10 years later things would be so different. I can’t wait to see what the next 10 bring. I’ll keep working to help more people start playing hockey, and get better at it, and find a welcoming, parity-based place to play.

Thanks for your support over the years, your kindness and patience and work to create our special hockey community. Thank you.