Even though his kids are grown and no longer participate in community sports, Michael Stanton's car is, if not the first, the second in the parking lot at the Somers Point hockey rink for practice.

Somers Point Hockey Association President Russ Babb said that for nearly 20 years, Stanton has been a volunteer coach for the association.

"I'm down there countless hours and Mike's down there with me," said Babb, of Somers Point. "The difference is I have a son in the program and his son has been out of the program 15-plus years."

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Because of his prolonged commitment to the program, the Somers Point Recreation Commission is honoring Stanton as the Somers Point Volunteer of the year. Babb and other community members nominated Stanton for the honor.

The award, Babb said, is usually awarded to a community member who had a year packed with community participation and involvement or for someone who has participated in the community for years.

"(Stanton) does a lot and the longevity of time he put in - the amount of effort is tremendous," Babb said.

When Babb drove to Stanton's house to inform him of the honor, Stanton said, he was shocked.

"I thought, 'Oh wow, what an honor,'" Stanton said. "I know a lot of past recipients and it's a pretty elite group, I was very excited."

Stanton said he has been involved with the Somers Point hockey program for close to 26 years; he never thought his time coaching at the rink - a hobby Stanton loves - would garner him a nomination for Volunteer of the Year.

The time spent in the program has granted Stanton the opportunity to meet countless families in the community. Stanton said that last year, more than 200 kids were involved in the hockey program. He got to know the parents of players, and "over the years, that's a lot of parents."

"I love coaching, it's like my favorite thing to do, but I'm not sure if 15 years from now I'll be still down there," Babb said. "To see him show up the first or second car in the lot, and the last to leave on a Saturday, is impressive to me."

Despite his love for coaching, Stanton said, his commitment to the community would have been impossible if it weren't for his wife, Paula. He said without her support, he would never have been able to stick with coaching.

"I'm grateful to the Recreation Board and City Council, it was a total surprise, and you know, me and my wife make children happy," Stanton said. "It's something I really like doing and it's nice that Somers Point lets me hang around and do it."

Stanton will be awarded the Volunteer of the Year award at a City Council meeting on April 24.

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