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DANA PARSONS / ORANGE COUNTY

Hockey moms must be tough

September 05, 2008|Dana Parsons

Consider the various cool terms vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin could have used in describing herself to Republican Party convention delegates Wednesday night:

Moose-hunter.

Political trailblazer.

And the best one: former journalist.

Instead, she settled with obvious pride on "just your average hockey mom." She then adorned that title with a joke on how you tell the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull. "Lipstick," she said to loud laughter in the arena.

What, you might ask, is your average hockey mom? Is there such a thing? Are they any different from soccer moms or Little League moms? Do they really snarl?

Our search ended at the Honda Center, where Rosanna Sitzman is a financial analyst by day for the Anaheim Ducks but the round-the-clock mother of 9-year-old Jack. When we say round-the-clock, we're not kidding. She's been at rinks as early as 5:30 a.m. for Jack's games.

Sitzman caught parts of Palin's speech but heard the hockey mom reference on the news Thursday morning. "The first thing that came to my mind was, 'Yeah, hockey moms are tough,' " Sitzman says.

But not tough like bruisers. Not tough like tobacco-chewers or shot-and-beer drinkers.

"We're tough because when your kids get hurt -- and they do get hurt a lot on the rink, especially when they're older -- we have to be tough about it," Sitzman says. "We don't run out there and baby them."

Frankly, sometimes a boy just has to man up. In a sport where there aren't always a lot of extra players, sacrifices must be made.

"There was one instance," Sitzman says, "where two of our players had a 102-degree fever, and the moms said, 'Oh, take the Motrin, you'll be fine in two hours, and play.' "

Nobody ever said hockey is for sissies.

And there's something else. Hockey moms don't drop the kids off at practice and then disappear. That'd be too easy.

"We sit there the whole practice," Sitzman says. "We don't just leave our kids."

Why? "For me, I still want to be there," she says. "I say we're tough, but if he gets hurt in practice, I want to be there."

All youth sports seem more time-consuming these days, but Sitzman says that's especially true with hockey.

Her son plays at the "Squirt" level for the Junior Ducks club in Anaheim. The season runs from August to March and can take the boys anywhere from San Diego to Bakersfield or, during tournament time, anywhere in the country. It's not unusual to play as many as 40 games a season, counting preseason and tournaments. Practices and games typically are on the weekends and sometimes are scheduled before most of us wake up.

As a young hockey player ages, so does a hockey mom. But in a different way. She has to thicken her skin, find ways to suppress that urge to coddle or nurture. The reason: As the boys move up the ranks, the game gets rougher. And the hockey culture dictates that boys (and their mothers) learn to deal with the potential of getting hurt.

When you think about it, most moms at youth sporting events don't have to watch their 11-year-old get rammed or checked into a board by another kid skating at full speed.

Boys as young as 5 can play, but it's only when they reach the 11-12 age group that checking is allowed. With that in mind, mothers of younger kids start girding themselves before their sons reach 11.

They have to decide if they want their sons exposed to more physical play, knowing the toll it might take on both child and mother. Sitzman says mothers of younger kids joke about it, with an eye to when their boys are older. "We say, 'I don't want my son getting hit by your son, because he's bigger than mine.' "

And even though checking isn't allowed in Jack's age group, things happen.

"Even at the Squirt level, he got hit on the boards," Sitzman says. "It was an accident. He got poked by a stick. I had to contain myself, not panic and not cry in front of him. That's tough to do as a mom. We have to be tough. We can't be crying in front of our kids."

So, when Palin described herself as a hockey mom, she scored with Sitzman.

"When she says hockey mom, I guess she knows what I go through, the physicality of the sport," Sitzman says. "She must understand what it's like to watch your kid play and get hurt and to put that brave face on all the time. And to be at the rink at 5 or 6 in the morning and travel all over the place. So I felt like there was a bond there."

Does that translate to political support?

Not automatically, Sitzman says. It's too early in the game to form a political opinion of Palin, she says.

Fair enough.

Final question: Uh, the pit bull comparison. Is that really what hockey moms are like?

"I just thought it was funny," Sitzman says. "And somewhat true. I guess it refers to 'We're tough.' That's what I thought she was trying to say."

--

Dana Parsons' column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at latimes.com/parsons.

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