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RECREATION : Roll Playing : Galvanized by the Popularity of In-Line Skating and Seeing the Pros on Ice, Street Hockey Is Growing as a Hobby and Organized Recreational Sport

November 10, 1994|JON MATSUMOTO | Jon Matsumoto is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to the Times Orange County Edition.

In 1988, Bryan Garland took over a recreational foot-hockey league in Buena Park. The sputtering organization was not in good shape. After attracting a high of about 30 adult teams in the mid-'80s, the 10-year-old league had dwindled to just 15 entries.

Today, however, Garland and his partner, Gil Morrison, can scarcely believe that this same league--since moved to Garden Grove--consists of more than 85 foot- and 190 roller-hockey teams. (Ann Victor, director of public relations for the Anaheim Bullfrogs of the professional Roller Hockey International League, said the duo's California Street Hockey Assn. may be the largest organization of its kind in the country.)

"We always thought we could run a successful league (back in '80s)," said Garland, who operates the league full time in conjunction with the city of Garden Grove. "There were a lot of East Coast transplants from (hockey hot beds) Boston, New York and Chicago living in the area. But I don't think any of us predicted it would become this popular."

Galvanized by the recent popularity of in-line roller skating and professional ice hockey, street hockey is among the fastest rising recreational sports in Southern California. There are more than a dozen adult and/or youth street hockey leagues in and around the Orange County area. While a few of these leagues have foot-hockey divisions, the majority of them are upstart organizations catering solely to the burgeoning number of roller-hockey enthusiasts.

Some of whom are obsessed.

Shari Hitt plays hockey about five days a week and is in three roller divisions in the Garden Grove league. Her Black Widows team takes part in both the all-women and adult rookie divisions. In the latter category, her unit goes up against male dominated teams. She also plays on a co-ed team.

The Long Beach resident said she has participated in a multitude of sports from volleyball and softball to skiing and mountain biking. Yet she's given them all up since she took up roller hockey about two years back.

"There's no other sport that compares," she said. "It uses everything you've got. You have to use your physical and mental (abilities). I love it. It's an addiction."

Sally Jamison of Cypress may be the ultimate roller-hockey mom, with five boys age 8 to 15 participating in the Garden Grove league. And her in-line-skating, 6-year-old daughter is eager to join a team.

Jamison doesn't find her children's passion for roller hockey difficult to fathom.

"They like the movement. They can use their talents as good skaters as well as their other physical skills. They want something that's fast-paced. It's not like golf."

Jamison also finds comfort in the fact that roller hockey is set up to be much safer than ice hockey. The vast majority of recreational street-hockey leagues have non-checking rules that penalize players who deliberately use the rough body contact allowed in ice hockey. The plastic pucks used in adult and teen roller hockey are also lighter than the hard-rubber pucks used in ice hockey. (Many foot and preteen roller leagues use soft plastic balls instead of pucks.)

The rabid response to the game so impressed Garden Grove officials that the city recently built a $90,000 outdoor playing facility for the local league and community. The rink is scheduled to open Saturday. The Garden Grove Roller Hockey Park--which contains the rink, a playground and several baseball diamonds--sits on Chapman Avenue, just east of Harbor Boulevard. The 180-by-85-foot street-hockey rink is longer by about 40 feet than the Garden Grove league's two mid-size rinks at the Chapman Sports Complex, at Chapman Avenue and Knott Street. (The Garden Grove league plans to run games at both sites.)

Unlike the rinks at the Chapman Sports Complex, the playing facility at the Garden Grove Roller Hockey Park is a Cadillac operation, including plexiglass walls, players' benches, penalty boxes and a grandstand. It's sure to rank as one of the most attractive outdoor roller-hockey rinks in Southern California.

For league moguls Garland and Morrison, the Garden Grove Roller Hockey Park arrives at an ideal time. Their league added more than 60 teams this year in new roller divisions for children under 6, women, high-schoolers and college players. The organization already had firmly established categories for adult foot hockey and youth and adult roller hockey.

Other Orange County communities and budding street-hockey entrepreneurs have also found themselves scrambling to satisfy a public demand for organized leagues and rinks.

In Dana Point, starting a youth street-hockey program was a matter of "self-preservation."

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