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Shooting for Opposing Goals

Most opponents who play on the roller rink at the Potomac Community Center remain friends when they get off the rink after a game. But opponents over what to do about the use of the rink leave bad blood behind.

Slash.

"It was a documented fact that the inline hockey rink was constructed without the approval of county laws," said Richard Isen, who said he's had a "lot of experience living" with the rink. "It harms the right of my family to enjoy our property. Before it was built, we could hear birds singing, I could read a book. That's gone. Even at the fifth grade, it's just not quiet. Any increase to guidelines can make a bad situation worse… Two wrongs don't make a right."

Slash.

"To hash out how the rink was built is a waste of time. Roller hockey is the number one growing sport," said Joy Weber. "The fact that people have to travel out of the neighborhood to Laurel is appalling. Why send them out of the neighborhood? They want to play."

RESIDENTS, ROLLER HOCKEY players, homeowners near the rink, coaches and interested citizens voiced their opinions Tuesday, May 28 on whether the Montgomery County Recreation Department should lift the age restriction on the Potomac Community Center rink. Currently players older than 12 years old are banned on the rink.

The Western Area Recreation Advisory Board hosted the meeting — attended by more than 90 people — and will hold a meeting on June 13 to decide whether it will or will not make any recommendation to the Recreation Department on the issue.

"Next year, my son will not be allowed to play just because he is a year older. There is nothing wrong with a bunch of kids playing some hockey," said one resident, one of 12 people who testified in favor of allowing teenagers the opportunity to play.

"Some things never change, children need a place to play," said Steve Landsman.

"The county executive limited the age limit to fifth grade and under. That was the right thing to do and the fair thing to do," said Linda Isen, one of 10 people who testified against lifting the age restrictions imposed on the rink. "We're at the maximum level with fifth grade and under. The possibility of raising the age limit to young adults would make a bad situation intolerable."

PROBLEMS CONCERNING what Potomac residents want or don't want to do with the roller rink started four years ago when the rink was built.

"I've been through all this before. None of the arguments I've heard from anybody is a new issue," said Rick Rothman. "There are old issues back in 1997, 1998 with the first construction of the rink. A compromise was made by neighbors after the rink was built illegally. We are here today because of a compromise put in place in 1997. There is no objective reason to change what we have now."

WHILE ALL REQUIRED building permits were obtained when the rink was built, and the Department of Recreation was aware of the construction, no county funds were used, and the rink did not go through a “mandatory referral process,” before it was built, a required review by the Planning Board.

The Planning Board review after the fact led to the age restrictions four years ago, but the Board said at the time that it would be appropriate to reconsider the restriction after a few years’ experience with the rink.

“The majority of the Board supports the concept of investigating the inclusion of some appropriate time within the rink’s schedule to accommodate users up to the 12th grade,” wrote Planning Board Chair Bill Hussmann at the time of the review.

ONE REASON to lift the restrictions, according to roller hockey coaches who testified, is the fact that their teams which get to a certain age have nowhere to play in the county because the Wheaton Rink, which was used for older players, is currently shut down.

"We have to go out to Laurel, which is a long drive and we've had a drop off on the team because a few parents couldn't get their children to and back from the rink," said Pete Rampp, who coaches three teams, two under-10 teams and one under-12 team that commutes to Laurel. "There's no other facility in the county. Wheaton is under construction. We sure want to use this facility."

ANOTHER REASON is the growing popularity of the sport, according to proponents of lifting the age restriction.

The county lost roughly 200 teenagers paying $90 each when the Wheaton roller rink had to be shut down for repair, according to Andy Fish, league director of the Recreation Department's roller hockey league. In the Fall of 2001, Fish said there were approximately 36 teams that participated and each team had an average of 12 people on the team. In the Spring of 2002, there were only 20 teams with an average of 12 players per team. While the county in the spring of 2001 facilitated the involvement of eight teams for players 13-and-under, five teams for players 16-and-under and 8 teams for players 12-and-under in the spring at Wheaton, Fish said there are no current teams for players over 14 years old. The county created four teams for 12-and-13-and under teams who now play on portable boards at Potomac Elementary School.

"Essentially they went from using a regulation size rink with boards and a penalty box, to small portable boards. It is a totally different game," said Fish.

USA Hockey Inline, a Colorado organization which was created in 1994 to foster the growth of inline hockey at the grass-roots level, has 70,374 members across the United States, including players of all ages, coaches and referees. It has 22,703 members 18 and older; 10,292 members ages 14-17; 9,295 members ages 12-14; 10,771 members ages 10-12; 9,545 members ages 8-10; and 7,768 members eight and under. No members are double counted, said Cassy Maxton, coordinator of media and public relations of USA Hockey Inline hockey.

SOME OF the neighbors who testified said that youth should be grateful to them for ever being able to play in the first place.

"The reason the young kids get to play on the rink today is because of a compromise the neighbors offered," said one resident. "Kids who play today shouldn't take that for granted, because the only reason they play today is because people in the neighborhood compromised a lot."

"For the past four years, I've had the chance to live with this compromise reached in 1998," said Richard Isen. "There is banging and clashing of sticks; this is hockey on roller skates. Hockey is not to be played by the timid."

Doug Stevens, who originally petitioned the Planning Board to lift the age restriction said he salutes all who made it to the public meeting. "I want to salute every one of you who has taken the time and effort to be here. I salute the neighbors, too. I'm sorry if you have been inconvenienced… I don't want to hurt the neighbors. I salute the neighbors for trying to find a compromise. It's not easy for neighbors and I bless them. Guys, let's work out something. Let's work it out together."

"Currently there are only two other places, one in Laurel and one in Frederick. It is crazy when we have this great facility," said Matt Rosenthal. "It is time to recognize roller hockey as a legitimate sport and the age limit should be lifted. Recognize the fast growing sport in the United States."

Del. Jean Cryor (R-15) said the common bond skating between all parties involved is the necessity to advocate for additional rinks in the county.

"Everyone in this room has to come together on one issue — to lobby for a rink at Cabin John Regional Park," said Cryor. "I did not hear from you on this issue. I will sit in the next budget session and will push for more rinks but I hope I will not be the only one."

AT THAT POINT, most everybody in the room — proponents and opponents — either nodded or clapped their hands.

But for now, that's a compromise that, for teenagers, will create a longer wait.

Jason Broday was one of a couple of teenagers who spoke before the advisory board.

"I am one of the people who want to play but I can't. I'm not a bad kid, just a kid who wants to play hockey. I don't see any reason why I shouldn't be able to play hockey here."