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BRIGHTON TWP. — Hockey coach Michael Wainwright said he is establishing a new sports academy to elevate youth hockey and prepare student athletes for a college education.
Wainwright and his business partner, Kip Miller, a former NHL player who also coaches youth hockey, are planning to construct a more-than-7,500-square-foot, two-story sports academy near the Kensington Valley Ice House in Brighton Township and invest $3 million.
Wainwright said Michigan Elite Sports Academy will be geared toward girls and boys who are serious players.
Student athletes also will have the opportunity to attend school there, and have access to gym facilities and time on the ice next door. They expect to have up to 40 students enrolled at a time.
He is particularly interested in elevating girls hockey as the head of the Kensington Valley Hockey Association's girls hockey program, the Ravens. He is also the founding director of the Michigan Girls Hockey League and recently was named director of girls hockey for Lansing-based Biggby AAA. He previously coached hockey at Hartland.
"One way we want to be different (from other hockey academies) is we want to be 50-50 boys and girls," he said.
The proposed academy, which received preliminary approvals from Brighton Township planners, will include classrooms, strength training, yoga and nutrition education, among other features.
Plans to redevelop land south of the ice house include constructing a 3,100-square-foot retail and restaurant building, which will have a similar look at the academy's architecture.
Wainwright said Miller is planning to relocate one of his Biggby Coffee franchise locations there.
The other half of the building is approved for either a restaurant or retail, and Wainwright said he would like to see an authentic Italian restaurant set up.
He expects to invest at least $3 million to construct the two buildings and build a drive between Grand River Avenue and the ice house.
A former salon on the property will be demolished. Another commercial building, occupied by skin care spa A BeYOUtiful Balance, will remain standing and the business in operation.
Working out the education piece
Wainwright said he wants to partner with a public school district that offers a virtual learning program and have teachers on site.
He and Miller have discussed options with Linden Community Schools Superintendent Russ Ciesielski. The Genesee County school district currently offers a hybrid option. Ciesielski said nothing has been formalized with Linden.
"(Wainwright) wants to make sure those kids have an education, and have an educational process as well, whether it's Linden or another school district," he said.
Wainwright said he envisions having one teacher for every 15 to 20 students on site to teach in blocks and also provide virtual learning.
"We want to have a real focus on education," Wainwright said. "These kids need good grades to get into the college of their choice. We wanted to get kids prepared for life, not just sports."
He said tuition will run about $14,000 per school year for the full school year. The academy also plans to offer an option limited to athletic and nutritional training for about $9,500.
A typical day
Wainwright envisions student athletes beginning and ending their day in school. In the middle of the day, they would have on-ice training next door, healthy nutritious lunches and nutrition education in the proposed facility, weight training and other fitness-related activities.
The facility will feature physical therapy services, sports massage, yoga and locker rooms with steam rooms and ice baths.
It also will feature a viewing room with a touchscreen television for watching replays and NHL game footage.
Wainwright said some of the gym facilities at the academy will be used by members of the Kensington Valley Hockey Association, which includes about 800 athletes.
While the academy will focus on hockey players, he said figure skaters could also benefit from its close proximity to the ice house and student athletes in other sports could enroll in the academy for school and athletic training.
"We're going to be ice-centric, but we won't turn away a football player, for example," Wainwright said.
He said they are considering building more training facilities near the ice house at some point in the future.
Elevating girls hockey
Wainwright said he has enjoyed being part of the growth of girls youth hockey in the state.
"We have this robust girls program, the Ravens," he said. "We have a big base of girls in the local area who want to play beyond youth hockey, who are looking to play hockey in college."
The Ravens have grown over the last decade to eight teams, including house and Tier 2 AA teams for different age groups.
"Ten years ago, (KVHA) didn't have a girls hockey team, so myself and a few other motivated dads started the first KVHA team."
Options for girls hockey players remain limited compared to boys hockey players, who can shoot for more robust junior AAA hockey and professional league programs.
North America currently has one professional women's hockey league with six teams, Premier Hockey Federation, formerly the National Women's Hockey League. Canada had a professional league until 2019, when Canadian Women's Hockey League ceased operations. That year, players from the U.S. and Canada formed Professional Women's Hockey Players Association, a nonprofit union to seek a living wage, health insurance and other support for professional women's hockey players.
In 2019, more than 200 of the world's top women's hockey players announced the formation of the players association, the latest turn in a bid to get the National Hockey League to back a pro women’s league that would provide adequate funding and support.
The move to unionize came after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League announced it would shutter operations and players said they would boycott the National Women’s Hockey League.
Wainwright said the end goal for most girls youth hockey players is to play the sport at the collegiate level.
He said he thinks women's hockey will expand in the future.
"I think we’re on the tip of the iceberg."
Contact Livingston Daily reporter Jennifer Eberbach at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Livingston Daily: Hockey academy, coffee shop planned near Kensington Valley Ice House