Ten-year-old Marty Boone and his 12-year-old brother, Darrell, always liked the idea of playing hockey. They'd rent skates at the Patterson Park ice rink and wonder what it would feel like to have a stick in their hands, a helmet on their heads, and a puck gliding along out front.
Nine-year-old Madison Spriggs, another rink regular, also wondered about hockey, though she liked her dolls as much as the next girl.
Such dreams never went far. This was the city, after all, and ice hockey was a suburban thing, an expensive luxury for kids in the counties.
Until four weeks ago.
Now, the Boone brothers, Madison and 22 other city kids ages 7 through 12 not only have a place to play, but the equipment to play it with and the coaches to teach them, thanks to people such as Ed Donnellan, Dave Antol and Bob Wall.
"Hockey is booming, but it is booming primarily in suburban areas," said Donnellan, who runs the community service program for Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, but lives in the city. With the annual cost of equipping a child for recreational league play as much as $450, he said, "Kids who can't afford it are being left behind."
So, four Sundays ago, Donnellan began the city hockey clinic at the indoor Patterson Park ice rink.
He and Antol, president of Baltimore Youth Hockey, put their heads together last summer to figure out how to make the game cheaper and more accessible for eager kids in the heart of Baltimore.
Antol figured Donnellan was the right guy to get the effort going.
Not only is Donnellan nuts about ice hockey, he's a whiz at fund raising and organizing. He helps drum up about $11,000 each year to help 120 kids from city housing projects spend two weeks of their summers playing and learning at Camp Umoja, on the Notre Dame campus.
To get the city hockey clinic going, Donnellan had to raise about $6,000. A $2,700 donation from the Abell Foundation was a start. Then came $500 from WBAL, $1,000 from Kemper Insurance, and $1,300 from an auction, which included a $450 winning bid for a jersey donated from the gold medal-winning U.S. women's Olympic hockey team.
Getting good ice time at bargain rates was easy, because Bob Wall, who manages the Patterson Park complex for Baltimore's Department of Recreation and Parks, liked the idea from the start.
Getting coaching help was easy, too. Donnellan and Antol recruited volunteers from high school students playing in local leagues, figuring they'd get as much out of the activity as their young pupils.
"It was a way of promoting better citizenship, so they can put something back into the community," Antol said yesterday.
A few, such as 14-year-old Adam King, who attends Hereford High School in northern Baltimore County, have enjoyed it so much they've shown up every Sunday.
Participating parents pay $25 per child, and their kids have seized the opportunity, rising at dawn for each of the last four Sundays to make it to the rink by 8: 30 a.m. For the Boone brothers, that has meant catching a bus at 7: 45 a.m.
It doesn't take long to see that the kids are giving back in energy what they've received from the program in ice time and equipment. When the whistle blows, echoing in the rink's cold air, they come to attention. When the coaches ask them to skate hard into a sliding belly flop, they oblige with exuberant head-first dives, rising with the fronts of their jerseys dusted with ice.
They won't be playing any games this year, Donnellan said. Instead they're working on their skills, their crossovers and stops, their stick handling and their passing.
"I'm sweating. I'm working hard," said a panting but smiling Marty Boone as he glided to the boards, his words making clouds of vapor in the chilly air. "I want to be a hockey player."
Madison Spriggs doesn't just want to be a hockey player. She wants to be the only girl, so that when teams eventually form she'll be like the girl in the kids' hockey movie, "The Mighty Ducks."
With her hair and face covered by a helmet and face guard, she said proudly, "Some of the coaches don't know I'm a girl."
She was less than thrilled when two other girls showed up yesterday, but she quickly brightened when she saw that they hadn't learned to skate.
Her mother, Rachell Spriggs, is a little surprised Madison was at the rink at all. She recalled the day a few months ago when Madison came home from St. Elizabeth's School in East Baltimore with a flier advertising the hockey program.
She was skeptical. Her daughter isn't exactly a morning person, and she already has to rise early five times a week for school plus every Saturday for dance class. Sunday hockey would mean no late sleeping at all. That was OK, Madison said, and she's made it every week, skating hard and working on her crossovers and her stops.
"I'm all for anything she wants to do except for lying around the house," her mother said. "Except for her reading and her dollies, I like to see her up and outside. Once I read the flier, we came down here to see what it was like. They said it was $25, and I gave them my check right then and there."
Most of the kids in the program found out about it the same way Madison did -- through the fliers that Donnellan distributed at two nearby elementary schools, St. Elizabeth's, a Catholic school, and Hampstead Hill, a public school.
Marty and Darrell Boone, who live about two miles away, found out at the ice rink.
"It's a nice mix of kids," Donnellan said. "The parents are mostly working people. Racially, it's very mixed. They're impressive kids."
Some have it tougher than others. Just about all of them go at their hockey hard and fast, or as fast as they can.
This year's clinic will last 12 weeks. Antol hopes they can build on the success next year, perhaps expanding to include 35 or 40 kids. By then they might begin playing games, perhaps entering the city contingents in an area league.
Antol and Donnellan have been pleasantly surprised at the skating skills of the self-taught kids who showed up for the program.
To keep going, though, they'll need to keep raising money. Besides local contributions, they hope to get help from the National Hockey League's ASSIST (Assist Skaters and Shooters in Succeeding Together) program, which each year offers up to 10 grants of $10,000 apiece for programs like theirs.
Pub Date: 1/25/99