Right now, the members of Potomac Inline Hockey (PIH) do their thing at Planet Splash & Play in Chantilly. But come February or March, they hope to be in a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility on Avion Park Court in Chantilly.
"It's the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. since 2000, according to the sports-garment industry," said Virginia Run's Jim Embley. "That's why we're building this first-class facility, to meet the demand."
EMBLEY'S A volunteer member of the new-facility committee, and Oak Hill's David Lensing is volunteer president of PIH. The organization was established in 2002 to provide a place for youth and adults to learn and play inline hockey, and now Embley and Lensing are unveiling plans for a new rink.
The 27,000-square-foot facility will be across from Chantilly Auto Park, off Route 50 and Stonecroft Boulevard, and Tucon Construction of Ashburn is building it. Ground was broken in August, and Embley expects the all-concrete structure to "go up quickly."
"We have investors who purchased the property, and we're going to be a tenant," said Lensing. "We have an exclusive, long-term lease with them."
The 185x85-foot, regulation-size rink will have high-grade dasher boards around the perimeter and protective netting for spectators.
But most of all, said Lensing, it'll feature the "most technically advanced and fastest inline skating surface made." It will also contain bleachers, four large locker rooms and a room for referees, as well as a meeting room where players may do homework or hold team meetings or team parties.
PIH offers year-'round inline hockey, with winter, spring, summer and fall seasons of 11-12 weeks each, mirroring the school sports seasons. Each season attracts 350-550 players, ranging in age from 4-60, in various leagues and divisions.
"They come from all over Northern Virginia," said Lensing. "Last year, we sent two travel teams to national competitions. This year, we'll probably send three. But we want to focus on kids and get them exposed to the sport, teach them how to play it and let them have fun."
Registration just began for the winter season (January-March) and will continue through the end of the year. Register at www.potomachockey.com. For more information, call Tiffany Jensen at 571-643-1203.
Skaters participate in 15-17 practices and games per season. Adults play all games; high schoolers could have, for example, two or three practices and 15 games, and younger children would have more practices and less games.
SINCE THE new rink will be two or three times larger than the one they play on currently, it'll also attract more travel teams. (PIH has about five travel teams which play in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Southern Virginia, New Jersey and North Carolina). And the regular players, said Lensing, will be able to have "a greater amount of playing time because they won't have to wait for rink time."
The new building will be able to accommodate 100 teams — roughly 1,000 skaters — a week. Hours will be weeknights from 5 p.m.-midnight and weekends from 7 a.m.-11 p.m. or midnight.
Players vie against teams in leagues within PIH and then have playoffs and a final championship game. "Then we'll wait a week and start over," said Lensing. "We reshuffle the teams so they'll get to play with other kids."
Embley estimates about 30 percent of the players play ice hockey, too. Their season runs from September to March and, according to Lensing, "We get a pretty large crossover from ice to inline. They come to inline to stay in shape and develop different skills."
Calling inline "more creative and freewheeling," he said ice hockey pits five skaters against five skaters and a goalie, but inline hockey has four skaters against four, plus a goalie. In addition, said Embley, "In ice hockey, there are rules that slow the game down. Inline moves much faster because it doesn't have the icing and offsides [infractions] that combine [to eat up time]."
"Inline is more open and free-flowing, and there's no checking [body blocks] in inline hockey — which is appealing to a lot of kids and parents because some have a fear of contact and getting hurt," said Lensing. "There are fewer injuries in inline hockey, than in ice hockey."
It's also less expensive, said Embley, because "it doesn't cost as much to operate and maintain an inline rink — which results in a lower registration cost to the participants. It's almost 50-percent less expensive to join an inline league than an ice-hockey league."
Furthermore, inline teams usually have eight to 12 skaters, compared to 16-20 on ice-hockey teams. So, said Lensing, "That translates into less playing time per game, per skater, in ice hockey than in inline."
THERE'S ALSO something else that sets PIH apart. "The neat thing about our rink is that most people who build and own a rink are in it to make money," said Lensing. "But we're a not-for-profit organization, so the funds received from registration or fund-raising are plowed back into the kids and the registration costs."
Added Embley: "There's an unbelievable amount of time and effort that's gone into this — from the dream to the fruition — and it gives everybody a good sense of community involvement. From the financing partners to the volunteers, everyone's in it to bring inline hockey to this area."
Although high schoolers and adults have to pay for their uniforms and equipment, PIH provides them free for the younger skaters. "We're volunteers — we all have real jobs," said Lensing. "The only paid people will be those who manage the facility, itself, and maybe a director of hockey to ensure smooth operations."
The group's camps and clinics will be operated by paid professionals, but PIH's board of directors, league commissioners and coachers are all volunteers. And they and their family members also play on the teams. For example, Embley's 11-year-old son skates on a couple of ice-hockey teams and a couple of inline teams.
"It really keeps people motivated to do the right thing by everyone because it's our kids playing in there, and us in the adult leagues," said Lensing. "So we have a vested interest. I didn't start playing 'til I was 41; now, my wife and I play on the same team in the adult league and our twin sons, age 14, and daughter, 12, also play."
PIH offers beginning classes for young skaters. "They'll be in tennis shoes, with helmets and protective gear," said Lensing. "Then after about three weeks, we'll put them on skates and teach them skills."
"They're ready before we're ready to put skates on them, and the little kids are so excited about getting to wear their skates," said Embley. "They're wonderful."
"I REMEMBER one kid who cried because he was scared to get onto the rink," recalled Lensing. "But once he was on, he loved it so much that he cried when he had to go off. It's also wonderful exercise. It grabs kids because it's fast-paced and exciting and the action is continuous."
"For kids, it's an adrenaline rush," said Embley. "They're out there for two minutes and go as hard as they can, and then you rotate them out to catch their breath. Thirty seconds later, they're saying, 'Coach, can I go in again?'"
Team play and sportsmanship is stressed and, since inline hockey is less costly than other sports and isn't weather-dependent, said Lensing, "We get a good reflection of the community playing, from a demographic standpoint. The skaters are multi-ethnic and multi-economic, male and female."
And if money's a factor, said Lensing, "We have people that own companies and, every season, they'll fund kids' [expenses]." Added Embley, "If kids want to play, we'll find a way to help them do it."