It’s difficult for the players to focus on their education.

LEWISTON – Brandon Verge was supposed to be studying astronomy.

Instead, the 18-year-old Maineiacs goalie was playing a computer card game. Between hands, he sent instant messages to friends and surfed the Internet.

Verge began the astronomy correspondence course through Athabaska University in Alberta, Canada, in December. He’s halfway done, but with no teacher to motivate him, he sometimes has trouble staying focused.

“It’s easy to get distracted,” Verge said. “Some days I’ll work for two hours. Some days I might come in and do nothing.”

Around him, a few teammates snickered at the thought of him working even two hours. Like Verge, their computer screens showed only virtual poker tables.

For months, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team has struggled to find the right educational programs for its young players. Many say the best program is a real school where players can attend classes as regular students. But hampered by Quebec education laws, daily morning hockey practices and long road trips, nearly all of the guys have to take correspondence courses instead.

“I don’t think it’s an ideal situation,” said Jean Gastonguay, a retired high school teacher who tutors players. “It’s a situation that was set up out of need.”

It’s a situation that Maineiacs officials hope to change. Soon.

Established last spring, the Maineiacs are the only U.S.-based franchise of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Players dream of going to the National Hockey League.

But, said Roger Lachapelle, the team’s education adviser, “Most of them aren’t going to play professional hockey. They’ve got to go to work in four or five years like any other kid. They need skills.”

High school-age players are required to continue schooling. Older players are encouraged to take college classes.

The Maineiacs has 22 players between the ages of 16 and 20. Six take high school classes. Five take classes for Cgep, a Quebec program between high school and college. Six take college correspondence classes.

When they are home, the team meets at the Multi-Purpose Center after morning practice. School is from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. On game days, it’s shortened to 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The high school players take over a windowless classroom on the first floor. On a recent Tuesday, one boy got help from a tutor while three others worked on their own.

Olivier Legault, the team’s 17-year-old forward, pulled on headphones and listened to a CD while he did his math homework. Studying both English literature and math, the bilingual Quebec native said he doesn’t work very hard when he’s tired, injured or playing badly.

“You’ll maybe just relax and listen to your music,” Legault said. “I don’t have the same speed every day.”

In the computer lab downstairs, a handful of players used the computers. Many had a virtual poker game pulled up on their screens.

Others worked nearby, their books spread over tables. Some of the college students said they liked working on their own. Others said it made their studies more difficult.

Said Matt Davis, a 19-year-old goalie, “Chemistry would be a lot more fun with a teacher.”

Next year

Initially, officials had planned to send some team members to Lewiston High School. In Quebec, players routinely go to local schools.

But with morning practices, players would have missed much of the Lewiston school day. For some, the American credits wouldn’t have transferred to the Quebec school system.

The best immediate solution was to set up correspondence courses. But besides the motivation issues, officials found the correspondence schools took weeks to grade tests and send new courses, slowing down students even more.

Next year, the team would like its players in real schools, or at least in a school setting.

Officials are talking with Bates College and Lewiston-Auburn College about providing classroom space or enrolling some players next fall. Officials also hope to talk with Central Maine Community College in Auburn.

Matt McKnight, the Maineiacs vice president, said the team is even considering setting up its own high school.

Firm decisions are still weeks away, but many players say a real school would be a welcome change.

Said Legault, “I think I would like it.”



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