Associate law professor Doug Abrams has had a successful career in his field with more than 30 years of experience. Abrams has even more experience, however, as a hockey player and coach.
Abrams has coached youth hockey for 42 years, starting as a senior in high school. He continued coaching in college, while also playing goalie for Wesleyan University’s varsity team.
“When I went to Wesleyan, I could have either stayed on campus all the time or I could have become involved in the community,” Abrams said. “I wanted to get involved in town, so I coached during those four years.”
Abrams said he knew then he had found something special. He continued to coach youth hockey even after he graduated from Wesleyan.
“When I graduated from college … it was time for community service, which lets you know when you go home at night that somebody’s better off because of what you did,” Abrams said. “(Coaching) was never a burden; it was always a lot of fun.”
Tyler Tharp, who played under Abrams from the age of nine until he graduated high school, said Abrams has immense skill and dedication for the sport.
“There are coaches, there are great coaches and then, at the very top of the elite coaches, there’s Doug Abrams,” Tharp said.
Dick Gagliardi has been friends with Abrams for more than 40 years and worked with him at several hockey camps.
“He uses hockey to teach respect, humility, having fun, hard work, sportsmanship and the ability to deal with a loss, and finding out how and why an individual is not happy with the way he’s performing,” Gagliardi said.
Abrams was recognized in June for the impact of his various speeches and columns on the topic of youth hockey safety. USA Hockey, the sport’s national governing body, presented him with the annual Excellence in Safety Award.
Dr. Alan Ashare, the chairman of USA Hockey’s Safety Committee, said the award is given for outstanding contributions through many years of service to make hockey a safer game for all participants.
“What he’s done, as far as the books he’s written about protecting children, he’s right in line with what we’re pushing now in USA Hockey,” Ashare said. “It’s amazing what he’s done, and I’m so happy that he received some recognition.”
Abrams’ writing reaches a large audience, Gagliardi said.
“The national impact of his columns indicates how much he is respected,” Gagliardi said. “He’s just on a different level, and people are starting to talk more about the things that he’s talked about for 20 years.”
Abrams said it’s essential that coaches know the inherent risks in youth hockey.
“When you’re the coach and the players are 10 years old, whether their parents are watching or not, you’re in a position of trust,” Abrams said. “You can’t expect a 10-year-old to come up and say, ‘Coach, I don’t want to do this drill, it’s pretty dangerous!’ You have to make that decision.”
Tharp, who played under Abrams for most of his hockey career, praised the coach’s attention to safety and morality on the ice.
“In high school hockey, you’re dealing with hormones, and a lot of kids just got attitudes, and they’re out there doing cheap shots, and Doug wouldn’t tolerate it,” Tharp said. “He would bench you and say, ‘That’s not the right thing to do.’ And that’s why I can say I’m proud to have played under Doug, because everything we did was the right thing to do.”
Abrams contributed more to his community than just his time. His youth hockey team, the Missouri Eagles, would pick a service project of its own volition, identifying a need in the community and then seeking to eliminate that need.
His players, ranging from 6 year olds to teenagers, collected canned goods for food banks and hundreds of stuffed animals for local hospitals.
Abrams also created the Happiness for Health endowment at the MU Children’s Hospital, which provides sick children with books and games. The program is funded by royalties Abrams receives from his written works.
In his acceptance speech for the Excellence in Safety award, which he delivered on June 7 in Colorado Springs, Colo., Abrams spoke about his commitment to more than just his players’ physical safety.
Abrams told the audience that players should expect to be emotionally safe in a game where most people will forget the score two weeks later. He said there is an exam that actually determines whether a coach actually keeps every player emotionally safe.
“Just look in the mirror some morning early this winter and ask yourself one question: ‘How well do I treat my least talented player?’” Abrams said in June. “The answer will tell plenty about how much emotional safety means on the team.”