"Once a kid gets a hockey stick in his hand, nine out of 10 times it becomes his favorite sport," says Dave Henn.
His son Chuck slid onto the ice at age 3. Chasing the hockey puck followed, and became a passion. On the ice, Chuck packs his 9-year-old power inside jersey No. 9 to play center. Fourteen boys are on his mite-level Howard County Hockey Club team, including Matt Pinto, 8, a defense player from Sykesville. This year, Chuck's and Matt's team is the best mite team in the Eastern Region.
In January, you'll find them in Michigan. The team has been invited to the National Silver Stick Tournament, where they'll play teams from Canada, Alaska, New England and other U.S. regions.
What's mite hockey? U.S.A. Hockey, in Colorado Springs, Colo., is behind the national program and has determined age limits for teams that play teams of the same age. Mite team members, who range in age from 7 to 9, play other mite teams. A mite can advance to squirt, ages 9 and 10, then to pee-wee, bantam and midget before college-level hockey.
U.S.A. Hockey holds Regional Silver Stick Tournaments for A-Division teams. Chuck and Matt have played teams from North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
At the Eastern Regional tourney this year, the Howard County mite team won every game.
Mr. Henn has been the mite's coach for four years, drawing on his own love for the sport. As a boy, he played in the Baltimore Orchard Ice Rink's hockey program. Later, he played for the University of Maryland and in the Chesapeake Hockey League.
The mite team practices twice a week and has a busy travel schedule of weekend games. Last weekend the team played in Hershey, Pa. A three-day tour in Pennsauken, N.J., starts Sunday.
The team is seeking outside support to charter a bus to the national tournament. Hockey fans will enjoy the team's raffle of 10 tickets to five Washington Capitals games. The team also is selling pizzas.
Corporate sponsorships are giving the group a boost. For $50, a corporation receives a laminated certificate and Silver Stick pin.
"Chuck has a genuine interest in hockey. It's his No. 1 sport," Mr. Henn says. "I've taught a lot of young kids to skate. Most kids don't like to be on the ice, because they're always falling down. But once they learn to stride and glide, all of a sudden they enjoy it. The ice is like a magnet once they learn to skate."
Chuck, Matt and fellow mites are scheduled to board the bus Jan. 27 for their first national game the next day.
To support the team, call Dave Henn at 239-3836 or team manager Bruce Moscoe at 410-750-1154 before Jan. 22.
In the 1960s, my mother took my sister, brother and me to the movies about once a month. That's where I believe I found the real Santa Claus.
We wore long underwear to the movies. The theater was 40 folding chairs, which filled the social room next to the single fire engine in the rural town of Rosendale, N.Y. There was no heat. For a dime, you could warm up over hot cocoa and coffee from a hot water.
The antics of the Keystone Cops, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock flickered on the portable movie screen. Someone played the upright piano as the black-and-white films made us laugh. My mother, raised on these movies in the '30s, savored the slapstick like a feast.
Introducing each feature was a bearded, rotund man who welcomed everyone to watch free, for the fun of watching old movies from his personal film collection. His name was Romeo Muller.
"This is the man who made Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," my mother told us.
Mr. Muller created animations of our favorite Christmas stories for network television specials in the days before computer graphics.
Back then, as children glued to the TV, we were entranced by each show Mr. Muller made. There were no puppet strings. There were shadows and falling snowflakes. The snowman sang with the voice of Burl Ives. How was it done?
It was hard to imagine this happy man in an overcoat, in this little town, as the man behind "Frosty the Snowman" or "The Little Drummer Boy." Sometimes he would mention a new project, a brief note about a show coming up. More often, though, he would simply welcome everyone to enjoy the movies.
He's my Santa Claus.