Team steps up to help coach

Coach Kevin Jones doesn't need to be on the bench to influence his players. When the Superior Bantam B boys hockey team takes the ice, they are thinking of him. Jones is serving in Afghanistan.

Superior Bantam B co-captain Andrew Ramert (15) looks out onto the ice as his teammates battle with Silver Bay on Monday at the Superior Amateur Hockey Arena. Ramert and his teammates all wear a "KJ" sticker on their helmets to honor their coach, Kevin Jones, who is serving in Afghanistan. (Jed Carlson/

Coach Kevin Jones doesn't need to be on the bench to influence his players. When the Superior Bantam B boys hockey team takes the ice, they are thinking of him. Jones is serving in Afghanistan.

"He's on their minds," said Jones' brother and fellow coach, Mike.

Jones, an airman first class with the Minnesota Air National Guard's 148th Fighter Wing, is also on their helmets in the form of KJ stickers with camouflage-colored ribbons.

During practice and games, the youth sometimes calls out their favorite coach's favorite saying: "Keep your head!"

And, when Mike Jones remembers, his younger brother's framed military picture sits on the bench during games. If he forgets, the teens will ask: "Where's Kevin?"


"He's in Afghanistan," Mike Jones responded at first. When the players asked a second time, he caught on they were asking about the picture.

"I'm like, 'Oh, he's in the truck; he's taking a nap. I'll get him out,'" Mike Jones said. "Yeah, they definitely think about him."

A few of the teens talked about sending a care package to Jones.

"Just 'cause we like him a lot and we kind of wish he was here right now, helping us," said Andrew Ramert, 15.

With encouragement from their parents, the idea has grown to encompass the entire unit. And the community can help. Donations of items ranging from Carmex and gummy bears to foot powder and toilet paper will be accepted at SAHA all weekend during the Colder by the Lake Bantam B Tournament at the Superior Hockey Arena. It will be sent to all members of the 148th serving in Afghanistan.

"It's important for the troops to know there are people back here supporting them so they have something to fight for," said team member Kyle Johnson, 14.

Mike Jones, a staff sergeant with the 148th, said he appreciated care packages from home when he served in Iraq in 2005 and 2007.

"I thought it was a nice gesture," he said. "It takes you away from work and your day-to-day grind."


Everyone is welcome to contribute - from the 300 youth involved in SAHA teams and their families to the 12 teams traveling to Superior for the tournament. Even if you don't know a youth in hockey, said Bantam Team Manager Jen Polson, stop by to donate and watch your neighborhood youngsters in action.

Teens on the Bantam team know members of the military are serving overseas, but most didn't know any personally. Jones' deployment has changed their world view.

"You kind of pay attention a little bit more after you know one of the people you know is actually going over there," Kyle said. "So it's not just a bunch of soldiers, it's someone you actually know."

Both Andrew and Kyle have been skating since age 2 and started playing hockey with SAHA Termite teams. The teens said they appreciate all three of their coaches - the Jones brothers and head coach Tom Allen - for helping them learn more about the game. The coaches spend about 10 hours a week molding the diverse skill levels and talents of the teens into a team.

"Right before Kev left, we were on a winning streak," Allen said. "I kind of feel bad he's not here to see them develop, because he definitely had a part in their development."

The team has won the last 18 games in a row. As they participate in the weekend tournament they know, a world away in Afghanistan, Jones is cheering for them.

"I would like to wish everyone good luck for the rest of the season and look forward to the next," he wrote in an e-mail. He also thanked the team and community for remembering the 148th.

"It is nice to know that we have support from the folks back home," Jones wrote. "It definitely makes our work here much more gratifying."


Although he couldn't talk much about the fighter wing's mission, he said his job is to support forces in Afghanistan and keep planes in the air so they can fight terrorism.

"I along with everyone else here would like to thank everyone for their support and prayers," Jones said.

Polson, who helped coordinate the care package drive, said she appreciated the influence Jones has had on the players.

"He has shown them that giving back is an important thing in life," she said. "Volunteer hockey coaches give their time to help shape young hockey players. They give back to a sport they loved and know the impact that they have in these boys' lives. Kevin took it one step further and has shown these boys that giving back to his country is just as important."

Donations can be dropped off in the main lobby of the Superior Ice Arena from noon until 10 p.m. today, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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