Pucker up: Tahoe has in-line hockey team
Players travel 35 miles one way just to practice, there are no home games and a goalie can spend as much as $1,000 on equipment.
For the 13 players who comprise the South Lake Tahoe in-line hockey team, no obstacle is too tall to deny them from playing the sport they truly love.
“We wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world,” said Bob Schultz, a second-year goalie for Tahoe.
Because the second-year team isn’t affiliated with the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, South Tahoe isn’t permitted to use Lake Tahoe Unified School District property.
“The critical thing is getting playing time, and we don’t have any facility up here that is suitable for (roller) hockey,” said South Tahoe head coach Bow Sowers. “We were fortunate to be able to practice for a while using school facilities, but it was too hard on the school grounds.”
Consequently, the club must practice outside on a paved surface – usually not very practical this time of year – or make a weekly trip to the Pony Express Pavilion in Carson City. While the latter option is inconvenient, it enables the team to practice on an authentic surface.
South Tahoe and the 10 other teams in the club league envision someday becoming linked with their high schools and the NIAA.
“These kids really want to be associated with the school,” said South Tahoe assistant coach Mark Heidt. “I told them to be persistent. Maybe there won’t be a program right away, but in a couple years they could have something similar to a basketball program. They realize that they’re doing the groundwork to make this thing successful. It’s in the baby stages. It starts with a few kids and they tell their friends. But it sure would be nice to have enough interest to have few teams.”
Viking Athletic Director Frank Kovac has been approached by the team several times about becoming part of the school’s sports umbrella, but is waiting for one thing to happen.
“As soon as the NIAA endorses the sport, we will be behind it 100 percent,” Kovac said.
Kovac, however, does have some concerns when the sport does become sanctioned in Nevada. Among them are Title IX requirements, making a facility available and “it raises the question of what do we say to the judo enthusiasts who want to start a South Tahoe judo team,” he said.
Providing a facility might become the biggest hurdle since South Tahoe’s gyms are saturated with usage among the school’s basketball teams during the winter.
“The gym is pretty much in use from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. There’s probably 15 minutes total during the day when they’re not in use, and that’s typical of the middle school and elementary schools as well,” Kovac said.
Until then, South Tahoe will be at a disadvantage when playing the Carson and Reno teams since they have their own rink.
“They practice twice as much as us,” Sowers said. “But our boys are very dedicated. They’ve been practicing since September and they really enjoy the sport.”
With four of its top scorers returning from last year’s 1-9 campaign, South Tahoe is expecting a few more victories this season.
“Hopefully, we’re going to stay around the .500 mark and be one of the eight teams to make the playoffs,” Schultz said.
Added Sowers, “I think they’ll do better than they did last year. I think we’ll probably win three or four games. Last year, the boys weren’t used to playing the game of in-line hockey. Now they’re more experienced and more familiar with one another.”
Doug Hayden, Chip Sowers, Dave Young and Josh Davidson should supply the offense, but their chemistry has been hindered by the makeshift rinks and limited practice time.
“When you don’t have the experience of playing in a full-size rink, you become somewhat limited in teamwork, especially if the other teams have the opportunity of playing on a full-size rink,” Sowers said.
All but one of South Tahoe’s games will be played at the Pony Express Pavilion or the High Sierra Hockey House in Reno. South Tahoe’s longest road trip will be to Bishop, Calif.
South Tahoe opens its season against Wooster on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at the High Sierra Hockey House.
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