east bay hockey league

San Francisco Chronicle: 8/31/06

STICKIN’ WITH IT / East Bay Hockey League: Kids at Oakland’s Harbor House have taken to the street game

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Two years ago, when a few Castro Valley teenagers saddled with way too much free time during summer break from college formed a street hockey league, it was something of lark. They even had T-shirts printed up with the league’s slogan, “Cause hockey’s better than cocaine,” a reference to what kids can succumb to if they’ve got a void to fill.

But in May, after packing a local tennis court the past two summers, the East Bay Hockey League has brought the game to East Oakland. There, the beneficiaries aren’t bored suburban teens but grade-school kids participating in a child care program offered by Harbor House — an east Oakland nonprofit that, among other things, runs free summer and after-school programs for kids. Harbor House, in an old Victorian, also has a fenced-in basketball court — the perfect venue for street hockey.

“The reason we’re starting to emphasize sports is because we believe it helps to develop a child’s social skills, academic skills, strategic thinking and cooperation, besides the physical benefits,” says Mary Biasotti, program director at Harbor House. Although street hockey is only a recreational activity at the nonprofit, last year, Harbor House began participating in a youth basketball league for similar organizations and took second place.

Matt Thomas, 21, one of the founders of the league, came up with the idea of expanding the league’s mission when he heard about Harbor House through his church, First Presbyterian of Hayward. “It’s interesting how you start out something as a joke, and then it comes closer and closer to reality. Here, it has a bigger impact,” says Thomas who, along with fellow league founder and longtime friend Neil Libbe, has volunteered the league’s expertise and hockey equipment to Harbor House.

Street hockey has become by far the most popular recreational activity for children in the Harbor House summer program, but it didn’t start out that way. “When we first got here, the kids were all fighting and hitting each other with the sticks. It was bedlam out there. Now the kids help regulate the games. It’s really competitive. You see a lot of fair play,” says Thomas, adding he gets a kick out of being mistaken for a NHL star by his proteges.

“They think I play for the (Detroit) Red Wings,” says Thomas, who starts his senior year at Pepperdine University as a political science major this fall.

Thanks to the tutoring of its league volunteers, Harbor House will continue to offer street hockey as part of its free after-school program that begins Tuesday and is open to 40 students.

Harbor House Ministries, 1811 11th Ave., Oakland. 510 534-0165, www.hhministries.org.

Paul Kilduff, 96Hours@sfchronicle.com

This article appeared on page H – 24 of the San Francisco Chronicle



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