For June Partridge and Brian DeWagner, every day feels like game day.
Between working and raising their two daughters, the Sarnia, Ont., couple can be found most evenings and weekends sourcing and hauling equipment, coaching and running practices for Janie Puck and Janie Lax – the two programs they founded in an effort to make hockey and field lacrosse more accessible and less expensive for girls in their community.
The Janie Lax lacrosse program started in 2013 with just a dozen girls between the ages of 4 and 6 years old, and some donated equipment in a park. With interest increasing year after year, the program has grown to around 100 girls ranging from 4-13 years old.
The couple's efforts expanded into hockey with Janie Puck in 2018, with both programs modelled on the goals of non-competition, inclusivity and affordability.
"Right from the start, we wanted to approach things differently," DeWagner said.
"We just don't have enough community sports. Everything has become so elite. If you look at Canada and hockey as the model, that's the perfect one that shows how out of whack things can get. It really excludes some people who are trying to do their best."
Create something out of nothing
Partridge and DeWagner met at summer camp as counsellors when they were younger, and have always been involved in recreational sports. Partridge works as a Digital Communications Officer at TD, while DeWagner works with at-risk youth as a counsellor for the local school board.
DeWagner said his "create something out of nothing" mentality comes from working for non-profits. When the couple started working on Janie Lax, DeWagner began tapping into his connections from his time working at the University of Michigan's athletics department, sending hundreds of emails to colleges looking for donations of old helmets, sticks, lacrosse pinnies and balls.
The successful first season included "fairy day," where the girls (and their coaches) donned fairy wings and tutus before hitting the field. Though the program remains non-competitive for the younger kids, the older girls have started playing other teams in Canada and the United States and are undefeated so far this year.
"They're really good, and they did it all starting in fairy wings in a park," DeWagner said. "It really does fly up against the notion that it has to cost a lot and has to be elite and funneled through very specific channels. These girls have gotten to that place at almost no cost, with their friends in a park getting creative."
In 2018, the couple expanded their efforts into a hockey program dubbed Janie Puck to empower girls who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to play.
The couple helps to source equipment for anyone who needs it, and each participant's family covers the cost of one session to spread out the cost, and the girls hit the ice each week to practice drills and develop skills. Pre-COVID, the girls got the chance to travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., to meet and skate with the University of Michigan's women's ice hockey team.
"It's always surprising the number of parents who say, 'My daughter loves this program,'" Partridge said.
"There's no competitiveness. They don't play games, they just go out and skate and make friends and have fun. Parents are shocked by just how much their kids love it."
A thank you for creating a league of their own
With the program's scrappy beginnings and recognizing Partridge and DeWagner's commitment to being on the field or the ice up to four nights a week just to help girls in their community, Jill Trotechaud, Partridge's manager at TD, wanted to recognize the couple for their hard work.
Trotechaud nominated Partridge and DeWagner to be recognized as part of the 2022 TD Thanks You campaign, which rewards TD customers and colleagues who are making a difference in their communities and bringing people together, without asking for anything in return.
In June, the couple was surprised with athletic equipment including lacrosse balls and portable goals, as well as a storage shed for all the girls’ gear; no more taking up space in Partridge and DeWagner’s home.
Trotechaud also did some reconnaissance work to contact parents of the Janie Lax players and arrange for a group of 30 people to surprise Partridge and DeWagner at the local park with the news.
"We were shocked," Partridge said. "Just emotional and thankful. The investigative work Jill did was extensive."
With the Janie Lax program entering its tenth season starting this fall, the kids who started as young girls are starting to grow up.
"After 10 years, they're kind of like our second little family of kids," said Partridge.
Partridge and DeWagner plan to keep running the programs as long as they can and hope to pass it on to someone with the same enthusiasm and commitment, whether it's their own daughters – currently 9 and 13 years old – or any of the dozens of girls they've inspired to pick up a stick through their programs.
"We've got a great set of kids. The emphasis on the program and what it means, they've just grown up in that culture," said DeWagner. "I'm really confident that one of these kids, or a dozen of them, will end up doing this 10 or 15 years from now."
TD Thanks You, June & Brian.