Northville teen takes road less traveled to reach hockey dreams

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Northville’s Nick Robertson, front, celebrates a goal with the Toronto Red Wings in the Greater Toronto Hockey League.

Detroit — For aspiring young hockey players, mixing academics with athletics can be difficult.

Along with the standard team hockey practices and games, you have a lot of travel to out-of-state tournaments – and then there’s the individualized training for skating, shooting and weight training.

The traditional brick and mortar school room, for the major-junior caliber player, can’t easily be fit into the schedule.

The flexibility at the traditional physical school just isn’t there.

Which makes the popularity of online courses in the world of top-tier athletics so understandable.

Take the case of Northville’s Nick Robertson.

Robertson, 15, starred in the Little Caesars program and this season in the Greater Toronto Hockey League before being drafted in the first-round last month by the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes.

Having moved from California to Michigan to pursue top-level hockey, then with the personalized training and tournaments, finding an equally challenging — yet flexible — academic experience was difficult.

“This has been a great fit,” said Robertson, who is in his sixth year of on-line studying, in his case through George Washington University, an online college preparatory academy. “The classes are challenging, I can work them around my schedule, and I’m learning to manage my time.”

Robertson’s three older siblings, including his brother Jason, 17, who is eligible for the NHL Entry Draft June 23-24, have gone through the classes successfully and have thrived.

“You see how these kids have to prioritize, how they learn to manage their schoolwork and activities, and without a doubt, in our experiences, it’s been a positive,” said Hugh Robertson, Nick’s father. “We can’t say enough about it. In many cases, they are further ahead entering college (then kids who don’t take online classes).”

Nick Robertson was drafted by the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes.

At George Washington, students take five classes per semester.

The classes including reading, activities, assessments and videos, along with a “live” session conducted by a teacher at predefined times.

These “live’ courses are recorded so when students miss them, they can go back to review at their leisure.

The online classroom software includes a whiteboard for live online instruction, multi-student discussion, file and video sharing, and teachers and students have office hours, tutorials, one-on-one sessions and parent-teacher conferences.

“We do offer flexibility that the traditional brick and mortar school cannot,” said Alison Mistretta, George Washington University Online High School (GWUOHS) Head of School. “We have students involved in sports, theater, dance, to name a few. They’re succeeding academically, and in their areas of interest.”

There are sacrifices and obvious differences from brick and mortar schools, not to mention the financial aspect.

The online students don’t have the daily, physical interaction with classmates. They communicate with other students in the program online, but there’s obviously no interacting with classmates in the school cafeteria or in the hallway between classes.

No proms or school dances, no walking or driving to school, or cheering on school teams.

It’s not necessarily for everyone.

“There are sacrifices,” Hugh Robertson said.

But in most cases, at least from an athletic standpoint, most teammates are in the same boat.

In Nick Robertson’s case, he said teammates have also been taking the online courses the past few years.

And Robertson sees and mingles with teammates before or after coursework, while at training sessions or practices.

There’s also the financial aspect. Most of the online schools have a tuition of between $10,000-$15,000 before fees.

Nick Robertson’s online courses include reading, activities, assessments and videos along with a “live” teacher session.

In Nick Robertson’s case, he’s been playing competitively since he was 5 years old.

Robertson has personalized training six days per week, three times per day, and the sessions ranging at different times of the day.

Robertson, a high school sophomore, enrolled at GWUOHS four years ago.

With the flexibility of the online classes, Robertson can take and complete his coursework anywhere, at any time of the day.

Robertson expects to have a 3.5 to 3.7-grade point average for this past semester.

“It was pretty challenging but it worked well,” Robertson said.

Both Robertson and his father say managing school and hockey has been one important lesson that will benefit him going forward.

Hugh Robertson said when the Petes were scouting his son, there was one time when the organization was attempting to contact Nick – but couldn’t track him down.

Nick, it so happens, was on the ice for personalized training at 5 a.m. West Coast time, having rearranged his schedule that particular day to take in one of live, online classes that day, along with catching up and going over several other courses.

“When the Petes learned about all that, they said that was the type of character kid they were looking for and was important to them,” Hugh Robertson said.

“You see these kids have to do that constantly. It’s an important life lesson.”