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Building community on the court
The crunch of shin guards and elbow pads echoes across the asphalt as more than a dozen elementary school players glide over the roller hockey rink. Battle Point Park’s hockey haven is surrounded by enthusiasts of all ages, some whizzing around the exterior of the court, others gathered on the benches and bleachers.
But it isn’t an intense game drawing the large crowd. Instead, it’s an afternoon of Division I Bainbridge Island Roller Hockey practice.
“It’s more of a community rather than a league,” said Division I player Colton Bohonos. The league, which is based out of the park, is staffed by parents and experienced players like Bohonos. Bohonos, who just completed his freshman year at Bainbridge High School, coaches the Division 2 Sharks in addition to playing for the Division 3 Senators.
“Even if it’s raining and you can’t play, everyone shows up because they really want to play,” he said. “With some sports, sometimes I don’t really want to go because I don’t see what it’s for. But for roller hockey, it’s the only thing I look forward to every day.”
Just past the midpoint of its season – which runs from early May through July – the co-ed roller hockey league draws almost 150 players.
“I like roller hockey because its more public and it’s more fun to be around people who are on the island,” said 11-year-old Caden Johnson.
Many roller hockey players also play ice hockey, and often commute to Bremerton in order to compete.
Johnson, a Division 2 player, volunteers with the Division 1 Coyotes, demonstrating skills for a team coached by BHS students Maya Edwards and Brad Mowell.
“I think it’s really cool that I was that age playing here,” Edwards said. “I had coaches like me who had been playing for a while and had been coaching.”
Younger players look up to their high school coaches, who take on a mentor role.
“I feel like a lot of coaching isn’t so much about hockey,” Edwards said. “I choose who I have together so they can complement each other. I’ll put a cocky kid with a kid who is passive and make the cocky kid learn how to pass and share.”
Keeping older players involved with younger players also keeps balance in the league.
“I just think it’s cool to teach younger kids what you know and to see them grow,” Bohonos said. “A lot of sports nowadays are blown way out of proportion and are getting way too intense, and the coaches of the teams aren’t making it fun anymore. This is a sport that’s still a lot of fun, no matter how old you are. So we still have people coming out year after year – even if they’re not very good – but they’re just out having fun.”
While players are learning the fundamentals, the easy-going atmosphere encourages cooperation on the teams.
“When we grew up playing hockey you could go play on ponds and it was casual,” said coach Gordon Janow. “In this day and age, every sport seems to have like a uniform and a coach and practice. This is kind of a nicer, casual way for kids to play hockey without it being so fiercely competitive all the time. They can be competitive in their games and we certainly play to win, but on another hand we’re really trying to teach the kids to develop their love for the game, the artistry for the sport.”
Many players who join the league are new to roller hockey.
“You don’t need to be able to skate; we’ll take a person who hasn’t skated at all and work on their skating skills,” Janow sad. “Maybe their goal for the year is be able to stand up, skate well and maybe pass the puck or take a shot.”
Janow grew up playing roller hockey and his son, August, also plays Division 2.
“It is family oriented – in the large family sense – and it’s really trying to support the things we like to see in all sports that sometimes get away from us. It’s really competitive, but at least fostering some kind of general community,” Janow said.
Now in its 12th year, the league is thriving.
“This is a unique situation for all these kids here that we can do something so close by,” Janow said. “Having the facility is really what makes it. The island can support that.”