Youth Sports: Junior StreetHogs Arena opens at Booker Washington Center

Rockford Park District and Booker Washington Community Center recently unveiled the Junior StreetHogs Arena at Booker Washington Center, 524 Kent St., Rockford. (Photo provided)

Staff Report

The Rockford Park District and Booker Washington Community Center have opened Junior StreetHogs Arena at Booker Washington Center, 524 Kent St., Rockford.

The arena will provide a place for hundreds of area youth in the community to play street hockey, and will allow the Rockford Junior StreetHogs program to promote the sport of hockey.

Junior StreetHogs Arena

In April, the Rockford Park District and Rockford IceHogs teamed up to bring the Junior StreetHogs concept to life through an outreach street hockey program for at-risk youth. The long-term goal was to have a permanent place for Junior StreetHogs participants to play.

Riverside Community Bank has been a longstanding partner of the Rockford Park District, and after hearing about the new Junior StreetHogs program, wanted to help. Riverside Community Bank donated $5,000 to help build the new rink.

Steve Ward, president and CEO of Riverside Community Bank, explained: “Riverside Community Bank enjoys making ‘great things happen’ in the communities we serve. Our focus is bringing the best banking experience to our customers, but we also wanted to acknowledge all the great work going on at Booker Washington Community Center. We are thrilled to help make this rink a reality.”

Charity events such as the Annual Police/Fire Charity Hockey Game, along with the Birdies and Blades golf playday, will help raise additional funding needed for the Junior StreetHogs Arena.

Sport Systems Unlimited Corp. in Ontario, Canada, provided the rink system materials at cost, resulting in a significant savings. The total cost to build the new arena was $10,000.

Rockford Park District Deputy Director of Operations Jay Sandine said: “With the help of Riverside Community Bank, the Junior StreetHogs program will have a major positive impact on our youth throughout the community. Hockey is a sport that promotes teamwork, communication and work ethic.”

Street hockey

Played with regular tennis shoes on a hard court surface, street hockey eliminates barriers that often prevent children from learning to play the sport of ice hockey. Ice hockey requires a significant cost for equipment, skates and transportation. Skating is one of the more challenging skills for children to learn, and because of this, many kids choose not to play. Street hockey eliminates the financial and physical barriers, and offers an opportunity for all children to learn the sport of hockey.

Partnering with the Rockford IceHogs and Chicago Blackhawks

The Rockford IceHogs will offer opportunities for youth participating in the Junior StreetHogs program to meet actual players and coaches from the Rockford IceHogs team as well as offering free field trips to IceHogs games during the winter.

In 2003, the IceHogs and the Rockford Park District formed the Jr. IceHogs youth hockey program. IceHogs players and coaches often make appearances at sessions of the various levels of the Jr. IceHogs practices to work with kids and assist with practice, sign autographs and take pictures. Because the Rockford IceHogs are affiliated with the Chicago Blackhawks, the interaction means even more to the participants since they often see their hockey mentor on a national level.

The Chicago Blackhawks were also very supportive in helping to provide a permanent arena for street hockey in Rockford.

Junior StreetHogs Tournament

During the summer months, six area community centers participated in the Junior StreetHogs free program, aimed at kids ages 7-12. Participants at Blackhawk Boys and Girls Club, Booker Washington Community Center, Northwest Community Center, Patriots Gateway Center, RESA and Washington Park Community Center took part in a clinic run by the Rockford Park District and Rockford IceHogs. The clinics concluded with more than 80 participants taking part in the first Junior StreetHogs Tournament held at the new arena.

From the Aug. 8-14, 2012, issue

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