When it comes to inline hockey, the volunteers behind Potomac Inline Hockey (PIH) hope lots of people will be thinking inside The Box. That's the name of their new facility that opened Saturday in Chantilly.
It's 31,000 square feet of fun at 3933 Avion Park Court, off Route 50 west and Stonecroft Boulevard. And it features two rinks for games, practices and instruction.
"IT'S REALLY the only facility in Northern Virginia dedicated to inline hockey, and that's what makes us unique," said PIH Board of Directors member Steve Angeline of Hampton Chase. "We were built for that purpose."
Besides that, he added, "We're the only not-for-profit, inline-hockey facility on the entire East Coast. We're strictly doing it for the kids and the love of the sport."
PIH formed in 2002 to provide a venue where youth and adults could learn and play inline hockey, and they did so at Planet Splash & Play in Chantilly. But now PIH has a place of its own.
Investors bought the property and tenant PIH has an exclusive, 10-year 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 3 1/2 to 60, in various leagues and divisions.
The new, state-of-the-art digs features a 185x85-foot, regulation-size rink with high-grade dasher boards around the perimeter and protective netting for spectators. But that's not all. According to PIH volunteer president David Lensing of Oak Hill, it also boasts "the most technically advanced and fastest inline skating surface made."
The smaller, second rink is 72x36 and will be used by younger players for games and practices. It provides space for U-8 and U-10 tournaments on one rink, while high-school-age players through adults practice on the other one.
That way, teen-age teams and adults don't have to wait for the younger skaters to finish. They can play at the same time on their own rink.
Having two rinks also enables PIH to hold multiple events and offer different sports at the same time. For example, it could have hockey tournaments and games on the larger rink and hockey games and practices — or volleyball or soccer — on the smaller one.
Also in The Box are bleachers, six locker rooms — four for teams, one exclusively for women and one for referees — and a meeting room where players may do homework or hold team meetings or team parties.
THE NEW building will accommodate 100 teams — roughly 1,000 skaters — a week. Hours are 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, 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, a few 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.
"The small rink is where we'll host our Learn to Skate and Learn to Play programs for 3 1/2-year-olds and up," said Angeline. "Even adults come out, and they're learning, too."
Tuesday morning, he said, his first call was from a woman wanting to register her 3 1/2-year-old. Next, said Angeline, "A guy, 52, called and said, 'I can skate, I've never played hockey, but I want to sign up.' So he'll be in our beginners league. I sat here and thought, 'Wow, isn't this neat.'"
Saturday's grand opening was a big success, with about 700 people coming to see the new facility. Said Angeline: "What was really rewarding to me was all the faces I'd never seen before."
Instead of a ribbon-cutting, The Box was dedicated by the dropping of the first puck between the 16- and 18-year-old travel teams playing the first game in PIH's new home.
Travel players, ages 10-18, played exhibition games, followed by children ages 5-8, "to show that inline hockey is for everyone," said Angeline. "We also had a variety of open skates, plus pick-up hockey games every hour." Costco donated some refreshments, and pizza, popcorn and soda were also available.
The fall season began Monday and goes to mid-December. Some spots for players, 8-14, are still open, and signups will go on for another two or three weeks. The winter season runs from the second week of January until the end of March.
Register at www.potomachockey.com. High schoolers and adults pay for uniforms and equipment, but PIH provides them free for younger skaters.
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 nonprofit, money received from registration or fund-raising goes back into the players and the registration costs.
Angeline said word is already spreading about The Box because athletic space in Northern Virginia is in such short supply.
"In the last 72 hours, we've been contacted by indoor lacrosse and soccer leagues and a ball-hockey league that currently plays outside," he said. "I've also heard from the Professional Inline Hockey League in Alexandria and the Professional Women's Roller Derby League. Cheerleading organizations have called, too. I'm the point person."
In the long run, said Angeline, the goal is to fill the entire facility with inline hockey. But to raise revenue in the short term, PIH is trying to keep as much of Friday, Saturday and Sunday open as possible for other organizations. (It's own league play will run from Sunday night through Thursday night).
Along those lines, PIH is also soliciting potential offers for naming rights to the facility to help with fund-raising. Those interested may call Angeline at 703-631-8659.
"WE'RE SELLING banner ads on the wall and dasher boards," he said. "And we're looking for that one corporation in the area that would like to have its name at the center of the floor and also on the building."
All the PIH board members have children who play in the league, including Angeline's sons, 11 and 17. And, added Angeline, "In the past, we rented from Planet Splash and Play, but this is our building and now there's pride."
For two years, he said 10 members of the board and the building committee gave up "a chunk of our lives" to make The Box a reality. But many others also put in lots of time and effort to get the doors open, and they're still helping — parents and adult players, alike.
Nearly 60 volunteers did all the hockey-related work inside the facility. They built the rinks, put down the new floor and glass, installed the rinks and net, painted and hung the scoreboard.
"They worked for four weeks straight, seven days a week, from mid-afternoon to midnight, mid-August to mid-September, doing all the inside prep," said Angeline. "We just kept the pizza and water flowing."
Board member Jeff Liebold, an Arlington firefighter, gave up his vacation to manage the inside project, and construction-industry volunteers with no connection to hockey also pitched in.
Mike Denisar, owner of MACS, Mid Atlantic Construction Services of Chantilly, was also a hero. "Without him, we would have nothing," said Angeline. "He knew the investors, Inside Sports LLC, to bring them to the table and get them involved. Mike also knew how to keep the building project moving along on the inside. He made it all happen."
Appreciative of everyone's hard work, Angeline said, "The whole community — and people from a lot of different walks of life — came together to make this all possible. It's absolutely rewarding to know that a volunteer, nonprofit organization could pull off a multimillion-dollar facility for inline hockey, and it's something we're all very proud of."