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BZA Approves New Inline Hockey Facility

When Potomac Inline Hockey (PIH) opens its new facility on Avion Park Court in Chantilly, it'll have not one, but two rinks. It got a thumbs-up recently from Fairfax County's Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) so it can move full speed ahead with its plans.

AND OAK HILL'S David Lensing and Virginia Run's Jim Embley couldn't be happier. Lensing is volunteer president of PIH and Embley's a volunteer member of the new-facility committee.

"It's exciting," said Embley. "We keep achieving milestones —the BZA was one of them — toward bringing this thing to fruition. It's going to be good for the community and great for the kids."

PIH was formed in 2002 to provide a venue where youth and adults could learn and play inline hockey, and they've been doing so at Planet Splash & Play in Chantilly. But by springtime, they'll move into a 35,000- square-foot facility across from Chantilly Auto Park, off Route 50 and Stonecroft Boulevard.

Investors bought the property and tenant PIH has an exclusive, long-term lease on 90 percent of the floor space. It 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."

And they'll be doing it in style. Their new, state-of-the-art digs will feature a 185x85-foot, regulation-size rink with high-grade dasher boards around the perimeter, protective netting for spectators and, said Lensing, "the most technically advanced and fastest inline skating surface made."

It will also contain bleachers, four large locker rooms and a room for referees, plus a meeting room where players may do homework or hold team meetings or team parties. But that's not all. Although the original plan was to have just one rink, a second one has now been added.

IT'LL BE smaller than the other one, 72x36, and will be used by younger players for games and practices. "We had the space to do it, so we decided to go ahead and put in a second rink," said Embley. "It's awesome because now we have space for U-8 and U-10 tournaments on one rink, and practices for high-school-age players through adults on the other."

That way, he explained, the U-14, 16 and 18 teams and adults won't have to wait for the younger skaters to finish. They can be playing at the same time on their own rink.

"This allows us to hold multiple events and offer different sports at the same time," said Embley. "We could have hockey tournaments and games on the larger rink and hockey games and practices — or volleyball or soccer — on the smaller one."

He said this flexibility also makes the facility more attractive to people outside PIH for their own purposes. Furthermore, he said, "We'll be able to hold more clinics and teach more people since we can do it on the smaller rink. And that's the goal — to provide a place for kids to come and either play hockey, or sign up for camps, to become part of the overall league to increase our membership."

The new building will accommodate 100 teams — roughly 1,000 skaters — a week. Hours will be 6:30 a.m.-12:30 a.m., daily. Players vie against teams in leagues within PIH and then have playoffs and a final championship game. After a week's break, the teams are reshuffled and start again.

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.

PIH ALSO offers beginning classes for young skaters. They start off in tennis shoes, with helmets and protective gear. Then after about three weeks, they get to put on skates. Having a second rink, said Embley, "won't make it so intimidating for someone new to hockey, just coming in, and seeing kids playing games [on a full-sized rink]."

Lensing said it's also "a great way to give the little guys who get tuckered out on the large rink a chance to concentrate on skills development on a smaller rink. The young kids can learn the elements of inline hockey on a rink more appropriate for their size, stature and strength" so they'll be more satisfied with their performance and able to succeed at the game."

He said building-permit applications are currently being submitted to the county for construction of the locker rooms, bathrooms, referee rooms and offices. As for the rinks, said Embley, "Everything's on order and we're just waiting for the rest of the equipment — the dasher boards and the floor — to come in. The shell is under roof and under construction. And it's completely enclosed in a covered building now."

PIH plans to move into its new home around April 1 — no foolin'. And Lensing and Embley are currently soliciting potential offers for naming rights to the facility to help with the organization's strategic fund-raising. Those interested may call Embley at 703-346-5889.

The group's camps and clinics are operated by paid professionals, but PIH's board of directors, league commissioners and coaches are all volunteers. And since PIH is a not-for-profit organization, Lensing said money received from registration or fund-raising is "plowed back into the kids and the registration costs."

High schoolers and adults pay for their uniforms and equipment, but PIH provides them free for the younger skaters. Said Embley: "From the financing partners to the volunteers, everyone's in it to bring inline hockey to this area."

The BZA OK'd the new facility on Jan. 10. Said BZA member Jim Hart: "Indoor recreation is an appropriate use for that area — which is heavily impacted by airport noise."

Lensing said he and Embley were both "very pleased with the BZA's unanimous approval. We believe this kind of operation will be beneficial to the community." Next on tap is the spring season, which runs from the second week of April until school ends in June. To register, see www.potomachockey.com or call Tiffany Jensen at 571-643-1203.