The harsh cracks of sticks slapping shots hard and fast toward the goal echo inside Decatur’s skating rink.
Each of the rink hockey players are working hard, honing their skills, preparing for Wise national competition July 13-19 in Albuquerque, N.M.
The players wheel down the hardwood at Decatur Skate, turning on a dime and taking each other on in a skill sport that’s more akin to soccer and basketball than ice hockey. League manager and player Don Allen said they play the Olympic version of roller hockey.
“It’s a no contact sport, so there’s no checking or anything like that,” Allen said. “It’s a team of five players with four out players and one goalie on each side.”
A game consists of two periods, 15 to 25 minutes each, depending on division of play, and there is no kicking the ball. Contact with the ball can be made only with the stick.
Decatur has two leagues. One league is an in-house league, consisting of about 90 to 100 players from around the county, and the other is a traveling league called the Rolling Knights. It consists of six teams with 43 players.
Allen said since he took over the league seven years ago, Wise County has consistently gone to nationals and usually has at least one team finish in the top three spots.
He said rink hockey is a fast-paced sport, faster than ice hockey, and takes a lot of skill. That skill is what has kept Brett McGar playing even after he graduated from Decatur High School.
“In ice hockey, you just go and knock someone over for the puck. Here you have to have good ball control, hand-eye coordination and be fast – pretty much all of those put together,” McGar said.
He has been playing since he was 12 years old. His friend, Hunter Moffit, was already a player and got him hooked.
“I’ve been playing for about six years. I’ve been to nationals before, and we got second the first year I went. It was pretty exciting,” Moffit said. “I didn’t play sports in school. It’s a good place for me to release my anger, to take it out on the ball.”
Allen said playing rink hockey takes a lot of personal commitment by both the players and their families. Many parents of younger players raise money for uniforms and entry fees through fundraisers like bake sales and car washes. What they can’t raise comes out of their own pocket.
The Knights have been playing monthly tournaments, accumulating points to earn a spot at nationals. Only the top two teams with the most points from each region in the United States get to compete. Their region includes all of Texas, plus Oklahoma and Arkansas.
ROLLER HOCKEY FACTS
- The first recorded rink hockey game was played in 1878 at the Denmark Rink in London, England.
- It was first known as “roller polo” because the skaters copied polo.
- Hardball roller hockey was introduced in the U.S. in 1882 with the formation of the National Roller Polo League in Dayton, Ohio, with teams in seven cities.