Like their counterparts the Brigantine Rams, who just wrapped up their 60th football season, players and parents in the Brigantine Hockey League are sharing character-building experiences through their sport.
The hockey league was founded in the early 1970s to hone basic hockey skills in young people, while teaching them the values of teamwork, perseverance and proper conduct in victory and defeat.
Today, four of the five men who comprise the board of directors played in the league as kids growing up in the '80s, and all have, or had, children who now play in the league.
Boys and girls ages 5 to 15 who reside in Brigantine are eligible to compete in the league in four age brackets: the Atoms for ages 5-6, the Penguins for kids 7-9, the Beavers for ages 10-12, and the Cadets for ages 13-15.
“It's fun for the kids, and it teaches teamwork, discipline and things like that, but we're also very proud of the fact that we give back to the community in many ways,” said Bob Riley, first vice president of the all-volunteer board.
The league is a nonprofit organization that raises funds to help pay for required equipment such as helmets, face guards, sticks, gloves and pads.
Much of what it raises through sign-up fees, special events, concession sales, donations and corporate sponsorships also gets put back into the community. Last year the league donated to the Brigantine School District's Stokes State Forest educational outing, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, the Atlantic City High School Jr. ROTC program, the Fisher House Foundation through the Brigantine Polar Bears, and several others.
The league created a foundation earlier this year called the Robert “Bobby” Bell Scholarship, to be given annually to a member of the Cadets in his or her final year of eligibility who will be attending Holy Spirit High School. Bell was a former player who died this year at age 22. The inaugural Bobby Bell Scholarship was awarded to Sam Adams.
“Bobby played in the league before I got involved, but I know he was a very well-liked young man who enjoyed playing in the league,” Riley said. “So the board decided to create a scholarship in his honor."
He said the winner is chosen by the board getting together and nominating a few kids members think are deserving.
"Then we talk about how they competed, their leadership skills, how they carried themselves on and off the court, and make a decision based on that,” Riley said.
Riley is joined on the board by President Troy Platt, 2nd Vice President William “Wheels” Reynolds, Secretary Leo Parsio and Treasurer Guy Porpora. Dennis Haney, Brigantine 3rd Ward councilman, serves as head of officiating and is one of several volunteer referees.
The league follows the basic rules that apply to ice hockey; however, since players run rather than skate, rules are more tailored toward leagues such as U.S. Dek Hockey Federation (see dekhockey.org). There are also a couple of specialized regulations such as the “wind rule” in the Brigantine Hockey League.
“Brigantine is notoriously windy, so what we do is have teams change directions after the first two periods, and in the third period we'll switch directions at the halfway point, or at six minutes,” Riley said. “That way it's even all around.”
This year the league is comprised of about 130 kids divided into teams by a draft system, and through most of the season – early December through late February – they compete against each other. Games take place Tuesday through Saturday evenings at the 42nd Street recreational complex hockey courts.
In late winter, the league plays against similar leagues throughout South Jersey in tournaments, and hosts its own tourney called War at the Shore each March. Last year nearly 40 teams competed in Brigantine from towns as far away as Marlton, Bellmawr, Berlin, Gloucester Township and West Deptford, some of which brought several teams in the same age groups.
On Dec. 17, the league will present the fourth annual Elephants for Autism hockey camp for children who have autism and other developmental disorders. It is put together by former board member Chris Howe and former player Jerry Ryan, whose 14-year-old son Jeremy is autistic.
The children are given the chance to learn about hockey, and representatives from various city services such as police, fire, public works and the Atlantic City SWAT team will show the children how equipment is used and vehicles operate.
For more on the Brigantine Hockey League call the clubhouse at 609-948-5351 or see facebook.com/vintageBHL.