Most dedicated hockey players started skating almost before they could walk, but Bob Falk came to the sport a little later in life.
Once Falk became a fan as a student at St. Francis (Pa.) College, though, hockey would never leave him and that interest led to hundreds of Howard County boys picking up the sport as well.
"My three younger brothers started playing street hockey (in Pennsylvania) in the early days of street hockey and they got me involved," Falk said.
Falk met his wife, Janice, at St. Francis and the couple took in a few Hershey Bears American Hockey League games at Hershey Sports Arena (now Hersheypark Arena).
"It's a great venue, you're right on the ice. It's hard not to like (hockey) after seeing a game there," he said.
After college, Falk's career as a certified public accountant took him south to Virginia, but he and Janice soon moved back north to Columbia to be closer to his hometown of Lancaster, Pa., and to start a family.
Between 1975 and 1982, Bob and Janice had three sons: Justin (35), Jon (32) and Rob (29).
Rob was the first Falk boy to develop an interest in skating — at around age 5 or 6 — and his older brothers soon followed.
It wasn't long before Bob Falk was spending more than a few hours a week at the Columbia Ice Rink and he decided to become more than just a hockey dad.
"It was probably about a year after they started that I know I became involved," he said.
Bob Falk began coaching with the Howard County Youth Hockey Club in 1988, joined the board of directors and became club treasurer in 1992 and served as president from 1998 to 2002. Over the years, Falk wore many hats with the club, serving as team manager, registrar, travel coordinator, volunteer recruiter, fundraiser, tournament director and whatever else was needed.
"We have seen Bob console injured players and players devastated after lost games, we have seen him consistently and evenhandedly administer rules, counsel players with personal and family problems, and act as an advisor to parents who were having serious problems with their children," the HCYHC board said in a statement. "Bob's demeanor is always that of an enthusiastic hockey/coach/fan/parent, setting the ultimate example of good sportsmanship that is sometimes all too lacking in youth sports."
His devotion to the club lasted long after his own children had gone off to college.
"This made a marked difference when comparing the Huskies to other organizations because they were not starting over every four or five years with new parents slowly learning the ropes and making the same mistakes that were made in the past," Columbia Ice Rink manager Karl Oesterling wrote.
Just a few of the notable accomplishments Falk oversaw during his tenure were the establishment of the HCYHC as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization and the creation of the Eastern Regional Silver Stick Tournament, hosted by the club.
After four years of doing yeoman's work of serving as both president and treasurer, Falk stepped down as president in 2002. Several years later, he finally left his post as treasurer as well. By that time, there were other opportunities for young men and women to play hockey in the area, but after years under Falk's guidance, the HCYHC was one of the premier organizations in the region.
"It was a little tough running the program, but when Laurel (The Gardens Ice House) came along, that really helped. It hurt the club, but it helped ice hockey," Falk said. "I knew that things were in good hands with the board that we had in place. … You have to maintain some level of participation or your program will suffer, you have to maintain some level of competition or your program will suffer."
While Falk isn't around the game as much as he once was, he keeps tabs on the Howard Huskies, the club's travel team, through its website and is available to consult the board when they need advice. And every once in awhile, the fruits of his labor will pop up in unexpected places.
"Recently, I was over at the Giant supermarket and ran into one of the kids who skated with my son, Jon, and he just kept thanking me for my time. I went home and said something to Jon and he said 'Dad, you just don't realize how many kids you affected'," Bob Falk said. "That said it all."
Falk said he and others who volunteered their time to help run the HCHYC operated under a simple principle: it's for the kids.
"We constantly reminded ourselves that no matter how much parents complain or even yell at you, you have to remember that you're doing it for the kids, and so that they can have fun."
And the Falk family isn't done giving back to community sports. Now that Bob is not quite as busy, it has freed up some time for Janice to spend more time working with the Special Olympics of Howard County's soccer and equestrian programs.