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Youth Hockey takes center ice

April 10, 2014

Eight youth sports organizations applied for funding this year, spreading the Recreation Commission’s already lean budget even thinner.

“Funding is small,” said Recreation Manager Stuart Brown. “It’s obviously not enough. But it keeps [the organizations] afloat.”

Two new applicants for funding emerged this year, the Eastern Sierra Nordic Ski Association and Mammoth Youth Hockey.

These came in addition to Disabled Sports, Mammoth Unified School District’s Husky Club, AYSO soccer, the swim team, youth football, and Mono County Little League.

“It’s an impressive number of sports offered for a community of only 8,000,” said Brown.

Though the commission recognized the value of all of the organizations, Hockey took the limelight, with Patrick Bernard, president and commissioner of Mammoth Lakes Youth Hockey, summarizing the potential of the sport in Mammoth.

“Hockey is going to bring heads to beds,” he said.

Mammoth has the only rink in over 100 miles, so teams will have to travel, Bernard said.

And having an outdoor rink is something special—so it won’t be hard to convince people to come to Mammoth.

Outdoor rinks bring the sport back to the roots of pond hockey, he said.

“Combined with the beautiful scenery of the Sherwins, it’s a pretty amazing experience.”

The opportunity to play hockey outdoors, and in a public facility, is rare, he said.

In most communities, rink time is a major commodity. Rinks are typically for-profit, owned by large corporations, and located in dense urban centers. Kids on the East Coast, for example, might have to practice at 4 a.m., and the expense can be prohibitive.

In Mammoth, comparatively, the cost of playing hockey is roughly a third to a quarter of what it would be in an urban community.

Also, the access is greater since the rink serves a relatively small community.

The star players on both the men’s and women’s national hockey teams, for example, came from small communities in the Midwest, Bernard said.

After divvying up the funds, Commissioner Elizabeth Truax said, “I want to make sure that we convey to [the Town] Council that we have new and growing youth sports organizations.”

The youth hockey league, she said, is a good example.

Funds for youth hockey will go toward purchasing gear and joining a nonprofit umbrella organization, which will give them access to cheaper insurance, and the ability to enter into a formal facility use agreement with the town.

As for the facility, overall revenues were up this year, while expenditures were down. The rink was open 83 days, serving about 8,000 people over the season.

Hockey has been growing in Mammoth, with both boys and girls coming out—and adult interest is high as well, said Bernard.

A shade structure could further expand the length of the ice skating season.

The chiller works great, said Brown, “but the sun is quite a bit more efficient.”

The town received Measure R funding to develop plans for a shade structure, and would like to get it fast-tracked for this summer, said Brown.

“It just goes to show, at a resort like this, we need those resort amenities as our peer resorts do,” said Brown. “We want to make a rich and rewarding experience for [our guests].”

“It’s a complete amenity and attraction,” said Bernard, “that’s used by our guests, our locals, and all of our friends up and down 395.”

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