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Jul, 2012

Summer Hockey League Off On the Right Foot

If you’ve spent any time nav­ig­at­ing the streets of North­east Phil­adelphia with a car, you’ve likely come across a group of kids play­ing hockey in the middle of the road.

With their sticks and nets strewn across from side­walk to side­walk, the tem­por­ary block­age of traffic may be viewed as an an­noy­ance to drivers; however, that hasn’t stopped young­sters from en­joy­ing a vari­ation of the sport that has been pop­ular­ized all across the area for dec­ades: street hockey.

Street hockey can be played on foot or skates, but in either case, it’s a fun, cheap activ­ity to keep kids en­ter­tained while they build memor­ies that can sus­tain the long haul.

Den­nis Gan­non and Joel Schriver know all too well about the be­ne­fits of play­ing foot hockey, be­cause they’ve spent most of their ad­oles­cent and adult lives par­tak­ing in it. Now, they’ve helped take the game that so many kids love and have or­gan­ized it in­to something much more large-scale with the Tor­res­dale Sum­mer Foot Hockey League.

The league formed last sum­mer at the Tor­res­dale Boys & Girls Club, at 4500 Linden Ave., with a stag­ger­ing 230 kids. A year later, the league con­tin­ues to thrive and has grown to an even more eye-pop­ping 400 par­ti­cipants, with no sign of slow­ing down.

And while the turnout has even sur­prised lifelong foot hockey en­thu­si­asts Gan­non and Schriver, they couldn’t be more thrilled to see so many young kids across the North­east tak­ing part in their brainchild. 

“It’s pretty simple,” Gan­non said dur­ing a Thursday af­ter­noon chat. “Joel and I both have young kids that we in­tro­duced to street hockey early on, and we had them play­ing in the win­ter­time in­side the gym­nas­i­um at Holmes­burg Boys Club. We saw kids wanted to keep play­ing, but noth­ing was offered in the sum­mer months. Our re­search led us to the beau­ti­ful rink at Tor­res­dale that really wasn’t be­ing used and was per­fect in what we were look­ing for so that the kids wouldn’t be re­stric­ted play­ing in­doors.”

Gan­non and Schriver talked to city of­fi­cials, as well as people with­in the Tor­res­dale club, and the idea for an out­door sum­mer foot hockey league was born. Already backed by the Holmes­burg com­munity, the long­time friends began cir­cu­lat­ing fli­ers to area schools in hopes of re­cruit­ing more play­ers. The turnout was astound­ing.

“In the first year, we ex­pec­ted maybe four teams with fif­teen to twenty kids each,” Gan­non said. “We surely didn’t ex­pect this.”

For just $40, kids can sign up and get to play a sea­son that lasts from mid-June through the middle of Au­gust. There are three dif­fer­ent age groups — 5 to 7 (sev­en teams), 8 to 10 (10 teams) and 11 to 13 (sev­en teams) — and the eight-week sea­son con­cludes with a post­season.

The older kids play three 15-minute peri­ods, while the young­sters play two 18-minute peri­ods. It is a no-con­tact league, al­though play­ers are sus­cept­ible to one-minute pen­al­ties throughout the game.

Street hockey of­fers the ba­sic fun­da­ment­als of ad­vanced roller or ice hockey, and both ex­per­i­enced play­ers and those who have nev­er picked up a hockey stick are wel­come to re­gister be­fore the sea­son. Each team prac­tices once a week and plays one game a week, with games be­ing played on Monday through Thursday even­ings.

“I think you could say we found our own little niche,” Schriver said by phone Fri­day af­ter­noon. “When I was grow­ing up you played your sport in-sea­son and that was it, but now so many dif­fer­ent sports are offered year-round, and the kids are torn be­cause they play a lot of them. But in the sum­mer months between the end of base­ball and the start of foot­ball and soc­cer, there’s not too much go­ing on.”

The ex­po­nen­tial growth of the league has it fair share of chal­lenges, es­pe­cially be­cause both Gan­non and Schriver work mul­tiple jobs and each have three chil­dren of their own (four of whom play in the hockey league).

Be­cause of the de­mand­ing nature of be­ing at the fore­front of the league, both men have leaned on the ex­cep­tion­al sup­port of vo­lun­teer head and as­sist­ant coaches, most of whom have their own kids par­ti­cip­at­ing for vari­ous teams. Schriver was also quick to cred­it Rich Gatt, who has been an in­valu­able be­hind-the-scenes or­gan­izer.

“Den­nis and I are the front guys, and Rich has helped us or­gan­ize everything, but without every one of those par­ents we couldn’t do any of this,” Schriver said. “They’re the back­bone of this en­tire league.”

Gan­non, Schriver and the Tor­res­dale Boys & Girls Club have all worked to­geth­er to make this league pos­sible, and as a res­ult it has rep­res­en­ted a fun sum­mer­time activ­ity for kids, that, as Gan­non said, “keeps them away from the video games for a little while.”

“We wanted to em­phas­ize something of good value, and it is a steal,” he said. “But at the end of the day our hope was to get the kids to do something fun while cre­at­ing memor­ies and ex­cite­ment in a safe en­vir­on­ment, and so far we’ve been able to do that.”

Gan­non and Schriver have known each oth­er for about 25 years, and their bond as friends has only been strengthened by their ex­per­i­ences play­ing street hockey. In fact, Schriver said that about 20 of the 24 head coaches were guys he knows from his own street hockey days.

Now, the two men, as well as hun­dreds of oth­er par­ents, get to watch their kids cre­ate their own memor­ies with both new and old friends. 

“Most of us (the par­ents) played street hockey, and now their kids are in­to it, which is great,” Schriver said. “But we’re not all ma­ni­ac par­ents telling them they have to play; rather, kids are like sponges when they’re young and they want to get in­volved be­cause they see it’s something we love. It’s not like we’re brain­wash­ing them…they saw their dads with hockey sticks, and now they want sticks too.”

Gan­non con­curred.

“I’d be ly­ing if I said I wasn’t loud and an­im­ated when I coach,” he said. “But everything out of my mouth is pos­it­ive. I like to pump them up and tell them they’re do­ing a good job, be­cause that plays a role in kids com­ing back. 

“It helps you learn about life, how to cel­eb­rate the pos­it­ives and help someone when they’re down,” he con­tin­ued. “If you have a bad game, so what? That’s what life is. Not every day is a home run. We vo­lun­teer be­cause we love it, and we want people to feel our hon­esty and pas­sion, be­cause it’s con­ta­gious.” ••

Sports ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­[email protected]

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