Patrick Henry newest member of CIF-Metro Conference inline league
Patrick Henry High School played its inaugural CIF-Metro Conference roller hockey game Nov. 30 against the defending Kiwanis Cup champion Westview Wolverines.
The fledgling Patriots came up short by a score of 13-1, but head coach Chuck Russell felt his team still came out winners.
“It is amazing how strong the hockey community in San Diego is,” Russell explained. “Through the generosity and hard work of a committed group of students and adults, we have been able to go from two hockey players setting out a table on club day at their high school to starting a varsity program.”
The story started two years ago when Russell’s son, Matt, sat down next to his father at the dinner table and announced that he wanted to attend neighboring West Hills High School.
“This was a little bit of a shock to me because although West Hills is a great school, Patrick Henry High School is fantastic as well and our neighborhood school,” the elder Russell explained. “Like many hockey players in California, it is rare that hockey players can represent their school while playing the sport they love.
“I, of course, told Matt no, but like any good parent, I put it back on him. I asked him why didn’t he start a roller hockey team at Patrick Henry High School.
“He gave me a slight shrug and I didn’t hear much about it.”
The younger Russell had played ice hockey since he was three years old, but last summer, played roller hockey for the first time at Skate San Diego in El Cajon. He immediately loved the idea of working on his skills in a slightly different environment.
Thus, the seed was planted.
Matt took it from there. Patrick Henry High School has a club day each fall where students set up a table in the courtyard of the school and have sign-ups for student-run clubs. The clubs encompass many different interests – photography, surfing, drama, cooking, for example.
The younger Russell needed a treasurer for his club, which he had planned to turn into a club team at Skate San Diego. The choice was easy: his sister, Jenny, who also had played ice hockey since she was three. Although Jenny had never played roller hockey, she agreed.
Amazingly, 25 students signed up for the roller hockey club. Some had experience, but many were lacrosse players who were looking for a sport in which would cross over and prepare them for the upcoming season.
“This was completely unexpected,” Chuck Russell explained.
This is where this story comes full circle: the elder Russell was asked to coach the team.
“I had coached (ice hockey) at the Kroc Center in San Diego for five years and had grown up playing high school hockey in Massachusetts and was a player/manager/referee for the intramural program at UMass Amherst,” he said. “Of course, I couldn’t say no.”
There was also an unexpected turn of events. On Nov. 3, the Russells heard from the Metro Conference that Patrick Henry had been granted admission.
“At this point, we looked at the hockey community to help us create a varsity program,” the newly-minted coach said.
There were several obstacles to overcome. Only five players who signed up had ever played hockey. The team’s final roster included 13 players – eight, including the goaltender, who had never played a hockey game in their life.
Moreover, each player needed an entire set of gear.
“We put together an email and sent it to all our hockey buddies in my contact list,” the Patrick Henry coach said.
Donations came flooding in, according to the elder Russell.
“When my friends heard about what Matt and Jenny were doing, sticks, gloves, roller hockey skates and even an entire set of goalie gear appeared,” Chuck Russell explained with excitement. “Each player was able to choose a full set of gently-used gear for free.”
The Patriots also reached out to Skate San Diego rink manager Joe Norris, who donated rink time, once or twice a week, to help teach some of the players how to skate.
Patrick Henry’s CIF debut was filled with excitement despite the loss.
“The kids had a blast,” the Patriots coach said. “We only had two players who had ever played in a roller hockey game before. When we finally scored with about three minutes left in the game (by Matt Russell, assisted by Clinton Allen), everyone went wild. It’s great to be a part of this league and we are looking improve on our first performance.
“We are hoping there are students out there who also want to play hockey for their specific high school and that our story inspires them to start a program at their school and expand this great sport to students who may never had the chance to glide around the rink with hockey stick in hand.”
— Phillip Brents