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Ode to the Volunteers of HMA

by on May 02, 2017 5:00 AM

The famous playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw once said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

I want to pay homage to a little known organization at Penn State that is about to quietly fade from existence. Not because of budget cuts or scandal, but because it was so successful that it has finally outlived its purpose. The Penn State Hockey Management Association, better known to its members as the “HMA”, dates back to 1971 and its hundreds of volunteers and leaders made a real impact that benefited many in “Hockey Valley” and beyond for 45 years.

What made the organization so special was that the students earned the hands-on, real life experiences of running the business side of what was essentially a small level varsity hockey operation. My favorite line during HMA student recruiting sessions was, “We put more PSU students into the pro sports than we do players.”

Penn State is a place of learning and the HMA was a great practical laboratory for students who wanted to work in sports management as it better prepared them for the "real world." My own experiences as an officer in the HMA were critical in landing my first job out of Penn State with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

Many of the HMA’s duties have slowly shifted to the traditional athletic department marketing, public relations, sports information, ticketing and alumni units since the program returned to varsity status in 2012. The last real HMA student volunteer responsibilities of event management and in-game promotions will be replaced next season, a sign of progress following the tremendous success of the NCAA varsity program under Coach Gadowsky.

I will miss seeing the HMA students in action, but fully understand that with the progress of the program, this change was inevitable. However, I believed it was worth taking a look back in an effort to recognize the positive contributions that these students made throughout the years. I hope I can do them justice.

Penn State sponsored varsity hockey in the 1940s, but in 1947 the athletic department made the decision to shut down the varsity ice hockey program rather than undertaking the cost to build an indoor ice facility and ramp up the program to meet NCAA standards. The first ever NCAA sponsored hockey tournament took place the next season in 1948 and was won by current Big Ten rival Michigan.

Hockey would disappear from the campus for 25 years.

Changing Minds

In 1971, a group of passionate and determined hockey enthusiasts, led by freshman Roy Scott, were able to get enough signatures on a petition to change the mind of the dean of the College of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, Dr. Robert Scannell, to allow a hockey club to be formed. Thus began the Penn State Hockey Club and the officers and volunteers who would provide the spark for college hockey to return to PSU.  

The student members, mostly members of the team and intramural hockey program, elected officers that oversaw scheduling, logistics, event management, ticketing, security, officials and every detail of running a small business. Crowds of close to 2,000 would pack the old Ice Pavilion, which stood where the current Lasch Football complex is today. In 1981,the club was preparing to move into the newly constructed Greenberg Ice Pavilion and with it greater demands on the student volunteers.

During that transition, John Grainda, then a junior on the hockey team, was president of the Penn State Marketing Association (PSMA). He came up with the idea to connect PSMA majors with the ice hockey club student volunteers.

“We went from a hockey player-led, off-ice organization to thinking about a business major-led organization, but with hockey player guidance,” he said. “The ‘marketing association task force’ helped create awareness, and fans, for Penn State hockey at the ‘new rink.’ The idea was to have the future marketing whizzes come up with ideas to promote, and pull people back to hockey at Penn State after our two-year stint without an on-campus rink.”  

The marketing group came up with a catchy phrase promoting the Icers return to campus. “The ice is back! Back the Icers!”

John is now the commercial director for Closure Systems International’s North American Division. He credits much of his career success to his hands on experience as president of the PSMA and executive director of the Hockey Club (the forerunner of the HMA). This innovative partnership took the management of Penn State Hockey to a whole new level.

John talked about another key component, landing a club faculty advisor with a business background who could assist in the transition.

“Our advisor was the late Dr. Dave Wilson, professor of marketing, Canadian born and a huge Toronto Maple Leafs fan,” he said. “When we brought the idea to him about using the marketing club to help the hockey team there was instant approval to move forward.”

There is more to the Dr. Wilson story. Dave was my academic advisor when I was a junior and senior marketing major at PSU. He had a huge influence on me when I served as vice president and president of the Hockey Club and was a confidant throughout my 26 years of working at Penn State.

It was in the fall of 1980 that the HMA played the most life-changing role for me. I actually met my future wife, Heidi Smith, for the first time at an HMA recruiting session in Sackett Building. Heidi and her roommate Paula Sotir attended the meeting and volunteered to sell advertising for the game programs and help with game management. In full disclosure Heidi wouldn’t give me the time of day back then, but we became great friends in large part due to our shared passion for PSU hockey. We still have the framed “certificate of appreciation” to Heidi Smith signed by the club president, yours truly, hanging in our basement.

A few years later, a legendary HMA figure, Dr. Paul Cohen, took over as the faculty advisor. It was during this time that the Penn State Hockey Management Association (HMA) got its official name that more reflected its overarching responsibilities. It was under “Doc” Cohen’s leadership that the HMA’s future was solidified for the next 24 years.

Dr. Cohen commented, “HMA members came from all majors from business to engineering to journalism. What banded them together was a love, a passion, for hockey and the desire to be a part of something larger than themselves. In fact, an experience they could not otherwise get on campus. The experience helped them get internships and full-time jobs. They developed personally and professionally. This is what made so many of them so successful in their professions and in life.”

A long-time dream came true for the Icer faithful with the building of the Pegula Ice Arena and the move to NCAA Division I hockey. The standing room only Icer crowds of 1,350 and the “Section E” rowdies from the Greenberg Ice Pavilion have been replaced by the larger and even louder “Roar Zone” fans and SRO crowds of over 6,000 at Pegula. The Icers Hockey Report on C-NET TV has been replaced by BTN coverage, and the radio coverage on WRSC AM has moved to 103.1 FM. Yes, the HMA was in part responsible for ticket sales, marketing promotions, home game operations, a weekly TV show and coordinating radio.

That real life experience helped to place HMA alums in internships and full-time positions in professional and college sports organizations and venues. That certainly helped to attract a lot of the terrific young women and men to join and serve. Here are some of the organizations HMA alums were able to join over the years:

The Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL Corporate Office, Pittsburgh Pirates, Detroit Tigers, The Barclay Center, Madison Square Garden, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL), Elmira Jackals (ECHL), Pro Serve Sport Management, ESPN, Penn State Athletics, Temple Owls, University of North Carolina, Georgia State and the University of Georgia.

Many HMA officers and volunteers have gone on to become executives at companies such as Disney, Medtronic, PNC, Alcoa, Macy’s, KPMG, GNC, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Merrill Lynch. Many more went on to own and operate their own businesses.

Former HMA President Geoff Martha, who is now the executive vice president and group president at Medtronic in Minneapolis summed it up best:

“The HMA helped me to develop real leadership and organizational skills. It gave me hands-on sales and marketing experience. A lot of college students don’t get that practical experience while in school. But we were responsible for raising significant funds to operate the program. We had to develop the value proposition for businesses to want to become sponsors and season ticket holders for Penn State Hockey. There was a tremendous sense of pride that we were able to raise the revenue for something we all believed in and it allowed us to operate the Icers just like a varsity program.”

So with progress comes another change, an evolution. Penn State hockey is truly roaring into the future. While this is the end of a 45-year run for the volunteers of the HMA, their shared passion for Penn State and the Hockey Club leaves behind an amazing legacy. Great memories, a lot of fun, and a lot of hands–on experience that helped prepare many of them for the “real world.”

“You see things; you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?”

To all my former HMA brothers and sisters, I say thank you for a job well done! George Bernard Shaw would be proud.



Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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