August 22, 2012 • Hockey

John Wardman: Making The Ice Center Pay For Itself

WardmanJohn Wardman,Ice Rink Manager

It’s been open for business since 1998, and John Wardman, manager of the Howard G. Mullet Ice Center, has been on the job since its doors opened, first as assistant manager and then taking on the top job in 2009.

Not only is he a “hands-on” guy who maintains the facility, including the ice surface, together with Mike Watt, director of programs and activities and head boys varsity hockey coach for Arrowhead High School, Wardman must first make sure the rink is able cover its expenses.

While it’s on the school’s campus and an integral part of the athletic program, the ice rink receives no public funding to cover operational costs.

“Our biggest challenge is filling the ice time and making sure we’re in the black every year because we get no tax dollars,” says Wardman. “So whether it’s making sure that the equipment is maintained properly or not spending money we don’t need to spend or just filling the ice to make sure we break even or we make a little money, it falls on us.”

“Filling the ice” or scheduling ice time for everyone who wants to use the rink can be a job in itself, but Wardman’s priorities are clear. Since we’re a high school facility, the high school programs have priority. I’ll schedule all of the varsity games for the girls and boys, and then I fill in the blanks.”

Those “blanks” include public skating sessions (every day after school 3-4:30 p.m. unless varsity teams are practicing, and Saturdays and Sundays 1:30-3 p.m.), other arena-run programs like Learn to Skate or Learn to Play Hockey, youth hockey, men’s league, etc.

All of these are paid activities including the hockey teams’ practices. “Even the hockey teams ice time is not free or cheap,” says Watt. He says ice time can run up to $250 an hour.

While the rink also has volunteers and pays students on an event basis, Watt and Wardman are the only full-time staff along with a part-time assistant to handle some of the accounting and other paperwork.

Wardman estimates that during the peak season he spends between 50 and 70 hours a week at the arena. In the offseason, he tries “to keep it as close to 40 hours a week” as he can. In addition to his normal tasks of overseeing regular programming, he’s present for every varsity game “so there’s a management presence in the building.” Those days can start at 7 a.m. and last until 9 or 10 in the evening.

Another source of income Wardman handles is sharpening skates for $5 a pair. He says that brought in between $5,000 and 6,000 last year.

Despite the long hours and his myriad of operational and financial responsibilities, Wardman says he’s blessed to be part of the Arrowhead program.

“I’ve been playing hockey since 1980 and I’ve traveled around the state. I’m actively involved in a lot of the rinks in the state, so, I’ve seen a lot of ice rinks. There’s no doubt we have one of the best facilities in the state.”

He also likes the fact that he’s actively involved in running the rink’s programs instead of just selling ice time and having other people come into the building and run the programs.

“If you’re more active, you really get to know the children and can guide them into the next program easily and it all benefits your program in the long run. So if it’s a quality program at that really young level, you’re going to retain more athletes,” says Wardman.

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