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Jul, 2011

Game On!

Street hockey has be­come a corner­stone of most North­east Phil­adelphia neigh­bor­hoods. You’ve prob­ably seen it at one point or an­oth­er — loc­al kids pick­ing teams, play­ing with friends from around the block. They cheer. They laugh. And of course, they have to move the nets out of the street whenev­er a car is headed their way. 

It’s some­what of a North­east tra­di­tion — one that Den­nis Gan­non and Joel Schriver have al­ways em­braced. And that is ex­actly why the Up­per Holmes­burg nat­ives have taken that idea, or­gan­ized it, and cre­ated the Tor­res­dale Sum­mer Foot Hockey League. 

The league, in its in­aug­ur­al sea­son, has be­come an in­stant hit throughout North­east Philly. There are 240 young­sters play­ing on 15 teams. They are di­vided by three age groups — 5- and 6-year-olds, 7 through 9, and 10 through 12 — and play at the Tor­res­dale Boys Club on Linden Av­en­ue. 

“There was really noth­ing go­ing on here for kids,” Gan­non ex­plained, re­fer­ring to the Tor­res­dale Boys Club hockey rink. “We found the rink and put the word out, and now, 240 kids later, here we are. It’s been really well re­ceived.”

The league plays with ba­sic­ally the same rules and reg­u­la­tions as ice hockey. There are ref­er­ees and pen­al­ties. Time is kept — the young­sters play three peri­ods, each 15 minutes long — and if ne­ces­sary, there are shootouts to de­term­ine the win­ner.  

“Street hockey is the ba­sics of hockey,” ex­plained Schriver. “It’s the bare ba­sics. There are a lot of kids that can’t skate, but you can still teach fun­da­ment­als at this age.” 

The sea­son star­ted on June 16 and will con­tin­ue through mid-Au­gust. All 15 teams qual­i­fy for the play­offs. After a one-and-done elim­in­a­tion round, the two squads still stand­ing will com­pete in the cham­pi­on­ship.  

“It’s ac­tu­ally the per­fect rink and the per­fect set­ting for kids and fam­il­ies,” Schriver ex­plained. “Our mo­tiv­a­tion was to get our kids on a big­ger rink. A lot of our kids have played for the Holmes­burg Boys Club and Lans­ing. Holmes­burg has a gym, which is great for the winter, and Lans­ing has a smal­ler rink, which is good for the young­er kids. We wanted to have a nice rink that was safe and where they could play in the sum­mer.”

Mis­sion ac­com­plished. 

The rink is next to the Holmes­burg Boys Club club­house, at 4500 Linden Ave., and is owned by the city De­part­ment of Re­cre­ation. After dis­cov­er­ing the hid­den gem, Gan­non and Schriver ap­proached the city with their idea to cre­ate a sum­mer foot-hockey league. 

“They told us whatever we needed,” said Gan­non. “They were very sup­port­ive. It’s been a win-win for every­body. 

“It’s a win for the city be­cause the rink is be­ing used by tax­pay­ers, and people are en­joy­ing it for what it was built for,” he con­tin­ued. “Our goal was to provide a safe, or­gan­ized, con­trolled en­vir­on­ment for kids to learn and play hockey. So it’s been a big win for us too.”

Once the duo re­ceived clear­ance from the city, they spread the word by post­ing fli­ers throughout loc­al schools.

The re­sponse was over­whelm­ing. 

“Word-of-mouth got out there and it kind of blew up. I nev­er en­vi­sioned this many kids,” Schriver said of the 240 par­ti­cipants. “The num­bers show that people in this gen­er­al area are really sup­port­ing it.”

Dur­ing the school year, Schriver ex­plained, most loc­al youth ath­letes are com­mit­ted to soc­cer, foot­ball, ice hockey and base­ball, but in the sum­mer months, there aren’t as many op­por­tun­it­ies to play or­gan­ized sports. 

“I think that and the fact that we only charged thirty-five dol­lars were both big as­pects of our suc­cess,” said Schriver. “We wanted to keep the price low be­cause par­ents have to go out and spend money on equip­ment, sticks. 

“We provide the balls and nets and we pay the ref­er­ees,” he ad­ded. “Also, some loc­al busi­nesses got in­volved and donated money, which helped off­set the price.”

All coaches and as­sist­ant coaches are vo­lun­teers, in­clud­ing Gan­non and Schriver, who each coach a squad. Gan­non ment­ors the 7- to 9-year-olds, while Schriver heads the young­est play­ers. 

“Hon­estly, the fif­teen guys that coach and the fif­teen as­sist­ants, they’re the reas­on why this is hap­pen­ing,” said Schriver. “No one is get­ting paid. Without coaches, noth­ing hap­pens.”

The squads play Mondays through Thursdays at 6, 7 and 8 p.m. Every young­ster gets ample play­ing time, switch­ing out of the game every couple of minutes to en­sure that every­one is in­cluded. 

“It’s great. It’s run very well,” said Kim Mc­Don­nell, whose son Mark plays with the 7-to-9 group. “My son plays bas­ket­ball and base­ball at Tor­res­dale, so that’s how we first heard of this. He loves it here. He’s learn­ing a lot and hav­ing a lot of fun.” 

Gan­non and Schriver hope to con­tin­ue the league next sum­mer. They seem op­tim­ist­ic about the league’s stay­ing power, es­pe­cially be­cause they’ve put to­geth­er 15 teams in this de­but sea­son. 

“We’ve had a lot of com­pli­ments about the league,” said Gan­non. “As long as people want to play, we’ll be here.” ••

For the Tor­res­dale Sum­mer Foot Hockey League’s com­plete sched­ule, vis­it www.Tor­res­dale­Boy­ and click on the hockey link. 

Sports ed­it­or Melissa Yerkov can be reached at my­[email protected]

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