Seventeen lives were lost this week; ripped from this world and onto the next. Victims of a senseless tragedy in a place that should provide opportunity, wonder, achievement, and education. Instead, those seventeen lives will be remembered in a number of vigils, funerals, and remembrances over the next week.

We will have endless social media debates, call for the government to intervene, question if our current policies are good enough, and look to control the weapons that create these mass killings of innocent lives. We will place blame on the National Rifle Association, the President, the school district, the family of the shooter, and anyone else that will listen. We will be outraged, vow to change the Constitution by claiming it is outdated, and look at our politicians to see what their response will be.

But will any of that matter?

We have spent the last 20 years going through a ridiculous cycle of mass shootings, the offering of thoughts and prayers, online debate, things settle down, nothing changes…and we wait for the next one. We say there’s nothing we can do. We figure it will never happen to us. We remain silent and accept it as part of our culture. We read the endless political pieces that will fill our news cycle for the next few weeks. We wait.

I am a teacher.

I am a father.

I have played out a simulation in my head a thousand times of what I would do should I ever have to in order to protect my students. I teach in three different buildings, in three different classrooms. Each presents its own challenges in regards to security, but I have a plan. Do I know if my plan will work? I hope I never have to find out.

I have been asked the question, “Would you stand in front of a gunman to protect your students?” My answer is always yes…with a certain amount of fear and trepidation creeping into my mind. I know I would, yet the thought of my own three children growing up without a dad because I was protecting someone else’s kid is terrifying, but my reality. A reality I truly hope I never have to face.

So, what does this have to do with hockey?

Directly, nothing. Indirectly, everything.

We can discuss the enaction of change to our gun control laws, the reactions our President has to these tragedies, and the way our politicians spin these to protect their interests for decades, but until we agree to really identify the issues at hand, we are doing a disservice to our kids, our teachers, and ourselves. The heart of the debate has to be a truly introspective look at why these continue to occur and what can we do to prevent them to the best of our ability.

Kids that are connected to their school culture and climate through clubs and sports are, in most cases, less likely to commit these senseless crimes. We have seen time and time again that the students that perpetrate these shootings are typically lonely, having few friends, and very disconnected from the social climate of their school. They are withdrawn and feel that they don’t fit in with the “normal” kids. In general, kids crave attention; whether it be from home, school, or both. When that isn’t happening, ways are sought out to achieve a sense of fame or attention.

Getting kids involved in sports, clubs, and music ensembles is a pivotal part in heading off these thoughts and giving kids a “second family” they can latch onto in the school environment. This is where professional sports franchises can, and should, get involved. Creating varied programs to get kids involved in school-based and after-school sports and clubs is a critical piece to impact our communities in a positive way and generate a culture of inclusiveness and healthy relationship building.

Minor league sports franchises can do this at an incredibly high level. The connection between these franchises and the smaller communities they serve allows kids to develop the relationships they crave with the “heroes” they observe on the ice, court, or field each week. When we empower athletes to be mentors, coaches, and advisors, we not only give the athlete a skill that is not learned in any classroom, but give ourselves just one more opportunity to reach out to these kids that are slipping through the cracks and finding fame in taking innocent lives.

This isn’t something that falls solely on sports franchises, obviously; that’s an unfair responsibility and not the primary focus of a professional franchise. But, what if a league decided to pump some funding to each franchise to develop youth programs that specifically identified troubled individuals and intervened positively into their life? A program that gave kids a chance to interact with athletes and get involved in something; something they can be proud of and have a stake in?

It won’t fix all of the problems we face but seems to be something we can do to curb the rising death toll and stop this seemingly endless cycle of tragedy. In reality, that’s all we’re really asking for, isn’t it? Do something. It doesn’t have to look perfect. It won’t fix everything, but, it’s a start.

I wish we didn’t live in a world where we’re so numb to this type of violence. I don’t want this for my kids…all of them…my three, plus the over one thousand I’ve taught so far in my career. But, we can’t continue to remain silent and let this cycle continue. I thought Sandy Hook would finally get our attention; the smallest ones taken far too soon. But, we’re continuing to look for the same solutions that simply aren’t coming.

It’s time for radical change in our approach to identifying and intervening with these troubled kids. It’s time for us to look to unconventional methods and begin to believe in ourselves to bring about the change instead of waiting for a politician to do it for us. How many times do we have to look back and realize all the warning signs were there while we sat silent? I’d rather spend two hours with a kid on a Saturday teaching him how to shoot a puck than go to seventeen funerals.

We are the change that we need.

We are the solution.