By Larry Pruner
Stick-wielding kids have long been spotted darting and deking on city streets, and in parking lots, lacrosse boxes and community centres. Now ball hockey is hitting the high schools.
And Mission Secondary School’s team is one of the best in the province.
Interest in the sport has shot high and fast among textbook-toting teens, with the inaugural B.C. high school ball hockey championships May 13-15 at Port Moody Recreation Complex.
Six squads competed in what tournament facilitator Rob Moxness called a “grassroots” event, with representation coming from five different communities: Port Coquitlam’s Terry Fox Ravens, the Mission Roadrunners, Stelly’s Stingers of Victoria, Delta’s Burnsview Griffins and the Fleetwood Park Dragons and Johnston Heights Eagles, both of Surrey.
A Surrey school teacher and 15-year competitive ball hockey player, Moxness began lobbying schools around the province last January, when he sent out a myriad of emails and reconnected with Port Moody’s Tony Bellano, whom Moxness knew from the pair’s playing days in the Canadian national men’s ball hockey championships in 2003 and 2006, competing against Vancouver Canucks forward Alex Burrows along the way. Bellano forwarded Moxness the name Dean Whitson, a big ball hockey proponent and a Fox teacher, and the the tourney got teed up faster than a Sami Salo slapper.
Mission finished second, losing the gold-medal game to Fleetwood 3-2 on a last-minute goal.
Mission lost its first game 6-2 to Fleetwood, then beat Burnsview 3-1 and Stelly’s 3-1, which locked up first place in their division after the round-robin portion of the tourney.
The Roadrunners won their semi-final game 4-2 vs Johnston Heights to advance to the final.
Mission’s Sam Buttar was named the tournament’s top defenceman with two game-winning goals and four assists. Marcel Fuchs was the leading scorer, totaling four goals and three assists in five games.
“The entire tournament was just a blast. The boys had a great time playing organized ball hockey for the first time,” said coach John Kapty. “We had some ice hockey players, and a few soccer players, but only one kid had ever played organized ball-hockey before. All the kids learned a lot.
“It’s exciting to be a part of the first ever B.C. ball hockey provincial championships. Tournament director Rob Moxness did a really great job getting this thing organized. Our kids can’t wait for next year.”
Whitson, said he would eventually like to see ball hockey become a more established sport in schools.
“The long-term goal would be to build another program that would offer the opportunity for the kids to be competitive and active, doing something they are passionate about.”
With more than 6,000 youth currently playing organized ball hockey provincially, Moxness felt it was high time it graduated to the high school ranks to help keep kids in a positive, athletic environment after the bell rings.
“The educational system continues to explore programming opportunities to keep students busy after school,” Moxness said. “Research shows that the peak time for youth criminality falls within the hours of 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., which underscores the need for school communities to develop meaningful, physically active and socially engaging after-school programs.”
Enter ball hockey, whose novelty and cost efficiency is perfect for high schools under rigid budget constraints and their ever-curious students, Moxness believes.
“Ball hockey is a fun, affordable and all-inclusive sport that is gaining popularity with both students and their families,” Moxness said. “Implementing it as an after-school program will provide many opportunities for student engagement and success. The primary goal is to provide fair, safe and equal participation for all prospective high school ball hockey athletes.”
Moxness is also in the process of working with Surrey Parks and Rec to create a high school ball hockey league in the area starting next April, culminating with what he hopes will be the 2nd annual provincial tourney.
Eventually, Moxness hopes the sport blossoms to the point where any prep school student can participate.
“Another goal is to officially make this high school sport all-inclusive by engaging girls and special needs [youth],” Moxness said. “Girls are largely under-represented in both the minor and adult leagues and high school ball hockey may provide the spark for their active engagement with the sport. As well, I would like to collaborate with BC Special Olympics so we can engage special needs students with the high school championship.
“That would be awesome.”