Street hockey has become a cornerstone of most Northeast Philadelphia neighborhoods. You’ve probably seen it at one point or another — local kids picking teams, playing with friends from around the block. They cheer. They laugh. And of course, they have to move the nets out of the street whenever a car is headed their way.
It’s somewhat of a Northeast tradition — one that Dennis Gannon and Joel Schriver have always embraced. And that is exactly why the Upper Holmesburg natives have taken that idea, organized it, and created the Torresdale Summer Foot Hockey League.
The league, in its inaugural season, has become an instant hit throughout Northeast Philly. There are 240 youngsters playing on 15 teams. They are divided by three age groups — 5- and 6-year-olds, 7 through 9, and 10 through 12 — and play at the Torresdale Boys Club on Linden Avenue.
“There was really nothing going on here for kids,” Gannon explained, referring to the Torresdale Boys Club hockey rink. “We found the rink and put the word out, and now, 240 kids later, here we are. It’s been really well received.”
The league plays with basically the same rules and regulations as ice hockey. There are referees and penalties. Time is kept — the youngsters play three periods, each 15 minutes long — and if necessary, there are shootouts to determine the winner.
“Street hockey is the basics of hockey,” explained Schriver. “It’s the bare basics. There are a lot of kids that can’t skate, but you can still teach fundamentals at this age.”
The season started on June 16 and will continue through mid-August. All 15 teams qualify for the playoffs. After a one-and-done elimination round, the two squads still standing will compete in the championship.
“It’s actually the perfect rink and the perfect setting for kids and families,” Schriver explained. “Our motivation was to get our kids on a bigger rink. A lot of our kids have played for the Holmesburg Boys Club and Lansing. Holmesburg has a gym, which is great for the winter, and Lansing has a smaller rink, which is good for the younger kids. We wanted to have a nice rink that was safe and where they could play in the summer.”
The rink is next to the Holmesburg Boys Club clubhouse, at 4500 Linden Ave., and is owned by the city Department of Recreation. After discovering the hidden gem, Gannon and Schriver approached the city with their idea to create a summer foot-hockey league.
“They told us whatever we needed,” said Gannon. “They were very supportive. It’s been a win-win for everybody.
“It’s a win for the city because the rink is being used by taxpayers, and people are enjoying it for what it was built for,” he continued. “Our goal was to provide a safe, organized, controlled environment for kids to learn and play hockey. So it’s been a big win for us too.”
Once the duo received clearance from the city, they spread the word by posting fliers throughout local schools.
The response was overwhelming.
“Word-of-mouth got out there and it kind of blew up. I never envisioned this many kids,” Schriver said of the 240 participants. “The numbers show that people in this general area are really supporting it.”
During the school year, Schriver explained, most local youth athletes are committed to soccer, football, ice hockey and baseball, but in the summer months, there aren’t as many opportunities to play organized sports.
“I think that and the fact that we only charged thirty-five dollars were both big aspects of our success,” said Schriver. “We wanted to keep the price low because parents have to go out and spend money on equipment, sticks.
“We provide the balls and nets and we pay the referees,” he added. “Also, some local businesses got involved and donated money, which helped offset the price.”
All coaches and assistant coaches are volunteers, including Gannon and Schriver, who each coach a squad. Gannon mentors the 7- to 9-year-olds, while Schriver heads the youngest players.
“Honestly, the fifteen guys that coach and the fifteen assistants, they’re the reason why this is happening,” said Schriver. “No one is getting paid. Without coaches, nothing happens.”
The squads play Mondays through Thursdays at 6, 7 and 8 p.m. Every youngster gets ample playing time, switching out of the game every couple of minutes to ensure that everyone is included.
“It’s great. It’s run very well,” said Kim McDonnell, whose son Mark plays with the 7-to-9 group. “My son plays basketball and baseball at Torresdale, so that’s how we first heard of this. He loves it here. He’s learning a lot and having a lot of fun.”
Gannon and Schriver hope to continue the league next summer. They seem optimistic about the league’s staying power, especially because they’ve put together 15 teams in this debut season.
“We’ve had a lot of compliments about the league,” said Gannon. “As long as people want to play, we’ll be here.” ••
For the Torresdale Summer Foot Hockey League’s complete schedule, visit www.TorresdaleBoysClub.net and click on the hockey link.
Sports editor Melissa Yerkov can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org