Monsters influence Cleveland youth

by Tim Bugaile || AHL On The Beat Archive

lem-youth_200.jpgGrowing up, Chris Durno and Mike Vernace wanted to become professional hockey players. They loved playing, watching and learning about the game.

They took different paths to get them to where they are now, with the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL, but one of the main reasons both are successful in their careers has to do with one common element: respect.

“Respect to me means being courteous and paying attention when coaches, friends and teachers talk to you,” said Vernace. “You have to respect everybody. Being respectful and courteous has got me to where I want to be.”

In order to pass along the values of respect, setting goals and overcoming adversity, the Monsters go out into the community eight times a year to talk to students in Northeastern Ohio on the Lake Erie Monsters Respect Tour, presented by the Ohio Lottery.

Each time the Monsters go out for a tour, in-arena host Olivier Sedra, broadcaster John Michael and mascot Sullivan C. Goal, along with two Lake Erie players, talk with the students about their life journeys and how through respect, hard work and dedication they were able to achieve their goals.

Sedra, a native of Montreal, moved to Cleveland two years ago for a job opportunity with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Aside from working as the in-arena host with the Monsters, Sedra is the special projects coordinator and public address announcer for the Cavaliers. Prior to moving to Cleveland, he worked in a bilingual market as a sports reporter/producer.

“You have to respect yourself and give yourself a chance in life,” Sedra told the students of Mound Elementary School in Cleveland on December 3rd. “I’m standing here today because I gave myself respect. I learned through my principals, guardians, teachers and classmates.”

The Voice of the Monsters, John Michael, took an indirect route to a career in broadcasting, but one he wouldn’t have been able to do without the aforementioned characteristics. In an eight-year span, Michael earned a mechanical engineering degree, master’s degree and law degree, all with cum laude honors, from the University of Notre Dame.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was your age,” Michael told the students at Mound. “And I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up either, even when I started practicing law.”

After practicing law as a trial attorney for more than four years, he is now doing what he loves because of his strong work ethic and dedication while in school.

“You have to stay in school, study hard and set goals,” said Michael. “Because I worked hard and got my education, the play-by-play opportunity presented itself because I worked for it.”

While different players go out into the community each time the Monsters tour, most recently it was Vernace and Durno who would speak with the students about how through respect, hard work and setting goals they had gotten to where they wanted to be.

Growing up in the Toronto area, both players learned at a young age the importance of respect and hard work through their parents.

“My parents installed those basic values – respect and hard work – in me while I was growing up,” said Durno. “I looked up to my parents because of their work ethics to see what they’ve accomplished and what got them to where they are today.”

“Growing up, I looked up to my parents, especially my dad,” said Vernace. “He made a lot of sacrifices for me and my brother that made life not as great for him. There’s no way I’d be where I am today without my parents; they are my biggest role models.”

Hockey did take up a large part of both players’ lives growing up, but both players worked just as hard off the ice. For Durno and Vernace, education was just as much a part of the equation as hockey was in the grand scheme of things.

“First of all, I wanted to get my education so I could have opportunities if hockey didn’t work out,” said Durno, who earned a degree in management and marketing in 2003 at Michigan Tech while playing hockey. “Once I started school, I became set on working toward my degree. You are never really sure if hockey will work out.”

The importance of getting an education while playing hockey was also a priority of Vernace, who studied kinesiology at York University in Toronto while playing for the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League.

“Our coach in Brampton was adamant about the players getting an education,” said Vernace. “He was still a teacher and emphasized the fact that you always want to have a goal outside of hockey. To be able to play hockey and get an education, that was great.”

Aside from getting valuable life lessons from professional hockey players, an in-arena host and a broadcaster, the students also got a surprise visit from team mascot, Sullivan C. Goal. Because the students listened attentively and respected the views of the speakers, they got another surprise: tickets to a Monsters game from Sully.

Since its inception in the AHL two years ago, the team has made a point of getting out in the community and being able to reach out to the youth in the greater Cleveland area to teach these valuable lessons. Before they left, Durno and Vernace wrapped up their day at Mound Elementary with the students and emphasized how they got to where they are.

“You have to respect everybody,” Vernace concluded. “Being respectful has got Chris and me to where we want to be.”

Added Durno, “You have to work hard. In order to get here, Mike and I had to do our work and assignments. There are a lot of reasons to work hard, and they have gotten me to where I am now.”