SALMON RIVER – A birthday party more than a decade ago was the impetus for Colchester County’s largest ball hockey league.
Jeff Smith’s oldest son Derrick was attending the party at Deuville’s Rink in Salmon River where the kids played ball hockey. It rekindled memories from the father’s childhood, when he played ball hockey at Deuville’s before the roof was added to the facility.
“I said, ‘I should start something for the kids,’ ” Smith recalled. “It started as an atom-age ball hockey league … and then it just grew.”
He put together an information sheet and had 96 kids register in one night for the atom league and the Truro and Area Ball Hockey League was born.
Today there are 400 kids in six age divisions involved in the roughly 14-week program at Deuville’s Rink.
“It really has taken on a life on its own,” Smith said.
“I just did it to keep the stick in their hands and the game in their minds over the summer.”
He is quick to praise the tireless efforts of his wife Nancy, who helps with many tasks in running the league including the website (www.leaguelineup.com/truroballhockey) and registration.
“I couldn’t do it without her.”
The couple takes care of everything from registration and scheduling to making the teams and finding sponsors.
Smith, who has also been involved with minor hockey for 15 years and has worked with young goalies, said there have been many benefits with the league.
It provides kids with a night of physical activity in the summer, gives them an opportunity to meet new friends and assists Hockeyville.
“It’s a big help for the rink,” said Ellery Deuville. “This brings income in for me for the summer which offset the costs in the wintertime.”
For his dedication Smith has been named the Municipality of Colchester County’s volunteer of the year.
Deuville said he has seen Smith’s devotion first-hand and says the recognition is well deserved.
“He’s had 300 or 400 kids in (the league), that’s almost as big as minor hockey,” he said. “And he has been doing it all himself – him and his wife. It’s just phenomenal.”
Smith was totally surprised by the award, but grateful for the recognition.
He is pleased to note three athletes, who have played in the league, have gone on to suit up for Canada at international events. P.J. Moore and Jenny Brine both won gold medals while Ryan Blaauwendraat won silver at world competitions.
“It’s hard to believe how far it’s really went,” Smith said.
But the league has also been a great opportunity for kids to see if hockey is for them without their parents having to shell out as much money to outfit their children for ice hockey.
“Over the years I’ve had a number of kids that try ball hockey that summer and that fall they’re registering for ice hockey,” Smith said.
“It’s a stepping stone for a lot of parents to see if their kids like hockey.”