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Youth Hockey takes charge

Association to operate ice rink for six weeks

Association to operate ice rink for six weeks

August 16, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - Pee Wee hockey rivals beware: The Hagerstown Bulldogs are back on the ice.

Less than two weeks after the city announced the Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex would remain closed until a new group could be found to manage it, the Hagerstown Youth Hockey Association has volunteered - and been approved - to do the job.

"We thought, if someone's got to do it, we'll do it," said Jeff Barbour, HYHA's president.

Under an agreement reached Tuesday with the City Council, HYHA will operate the facility on a limited basis for the next six weeks, staffing it with volunteers for hockey practices, games and figure skating meets, city spokeswoman Karen Giffin said.

Beginning Oct. 1, HYHA plans to reopen the rink for public skating and drop-in hockey. The rink has been closed since it was shut down for maintenance in late June.

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By signing on with HYHA, city officials are gambling that the youth hockey organization will have more success running the city-owned facility than the previous manager, the Washington County Sports Foundation. The city terminated its contract with the foundation earlier this summer after the group had difficulty generating revenue from the rink and finding volunteers for its board of directors.

The agreement with HYHA is only for this hockey season, which lasts through the spring, and the city is still considering other uses for the facility, Giffin said.

But Barbour is confident HYHA will be able to turn things around.

"It certainly is viable in the community if it's properly run," he said. "What it takes is some common-sense management. We can give the city what they're looking for, and I think once they see it's viable, they'll be content to keep it as an ice rink."

The group will create a board to oversee the facility. The board will include representatives from each of the groups that uses the rink, something Barbour said was lacking under the sports foundation's leadership.

To save costs, HYHA will staff the facility entirely with volunteers during the first six-week phase, then continue to utilize some volunteers when the rink is in full operation.

Beginning in October, the group plans to hire a manager for the rink, and has seen interest from several of its board members.

"We've got a lot of people in our organization who've grown up around ice rinks and worked in ice rinks," he said.

Meanwhile, the mini-games that determine the divisions for youth hockey travel teams are three and a half weeks away, and HYHA is scrambling to schedule practices. The group lost three learn-to-play sessions, the essential training sessions for 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds, because of the closure.

It also struggled to keep hockey players committed to the team while their facility's future was up in the air.

"When our rink closed and the media reported it, some of our competing neighbor clubs were circling like sharks that smell blood in the water, actively recruiting our players."

But at a celebratory rink event last night, local hockey enthusiasts didn't seem daunted.

"It's awesome. We're psyched to be here and finally getting some practice in," said Evan Greenawalt, 16, of Waynesboro, Pa., as he laced up his skates. Greenawalt's mother, Brenda Hann, said Evan was eager to start playing hockey again.

"He's been asking over and over, 'When's it going to open?' We were worried about it, but we're thrilled now," Hann said.

HYHA planned the event to celebrate the new arrangement and send a message that Hagerstown hockey was still going strong, Barbour said.

"We want to show our kids and our parents that we're back and we're for real and we're ready to go," he said.

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