By ANTHONY SMITH
In 2003, the Hockey In Newark program, a non-profit organization, was founded to enable Newark children to learn and play the game of hockey at no cost to them. Since its inception, with only five children at the time, the program has taken great strides to grow immensely. But while the program has grown to include over 200 kids, the majority of the past ten seasons have been spent without a consistent place to play.
Whether there was damage from Hurricanes Sandy and Irene over the past two years that delayed renovations, a broken ice making system or problems with the arena’s refrigeration system that prevented ice from being made, or a broken Zamboni prevented the ice from being cleaned, it seemed as if the arena would never be able to be used consistently again.
But on Dec. 1, after months of hard work, the Ironbound Recreation Center in Newark reopened, capping off an extensive remodeling project for the arena. Newark East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador was the project’s largest proponent. Some difficult decisions were made within the city council to find a way to secure funding for the program, but Amador ultimately stuck with the program and supported assisting it in any way possible from the beginning. Years later, being able to provide what the city has now provided for the children of the program has given him great satisfaction.
“It’s a great thing, not only for the Ironbound but also the city of Newark,” Amador stated. “About six months ago, we thought about two options. One was to basically do away completely with this place, and the other was to rehabilitate it. We decided to take the second option, and I think the youngsters, the residents of the city of Newark, benefited from that decision.”
Newark Mayor Cory Booker has been on board with the project since Amador first proposed going forward with extensive renovations to the rink. In being able to give back to the children of the Hockey In Newark program, Booker said renovating the rink provides the community with the home the program desired.
“It’s tremendous. The kids for years have been needing this,” Booker said at the event. “What they have had to do as a result of not having this had just been incredible hurdles just to get practices in, games in. This is just an amazing facility now, that really answers the cry and the call from the community to get something like this, and it means so much. It’s incalculable the kind of impact it will have.”
As mayor I will ALWAYS support youth sports. But the heroes are the ones who do the hard work of daily running the programs @hockeyinnewark
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) December 2, 2012
Booker’s belief in giving back to the children of his city was a driving force behind getting the job done. Because he will always support youth sports, Booker believes this is what every city around this country should be doing for its children.
“It’s really what every city, town, community in our country should be doing, be creating nurturing environments for our kids,” Booker explained. “It was a high priority for us. That’s why we’ve built so many parks, it’s why we’re building recreation centers, and it’s why we’re so involved in this.”
While the New Jersey Devils and owner Jeff Vanderbeek played a role in assisting the program by lending the ice at Prudential Center when the Ironbound Recreation Center could not be used, a permanent home was still necessary for the program. Because the city acknowledged that need, a large amount of capital funding also went into the arena’s rehabilitation, and Amador could not be more thankful for what the city and others have helped to provide.
“The investment that we made of approximately $500,000 was worth it,” Amador explained. “I would like to thank everyone who participated with this project, from the very beginning, the director of engineering, the director of public buildings, the mayor, my colleagues, for the fact that they believed in this project from the very beginning.”
SLIDESHOW: What the Hockey In Newark Program Has Provided for City Children
Coaches, Players, and Parents Thrilled to Finally Have a Permanent Home
Hockey In Newark coaches and co-founders Keith Veltre and Dennis Ruppe have put a great deal of time and effort into the Hockey In Newark program, a program that includes participants from ages five through 18. Veltre believes that having the rink not only eliminates the need to have 6 a.m. practices at the AmeriHealth Pavilion, the New Jersey Devils’ practice facility located at Prudential Center, but also having a permanent home for the kids to use is an important stepping stone for the program.
“It means everything,” Veltre said. “It means 10 years of hard work in the community, in the city, and the Devils all coming together to help this sport finally have a home, an official home, and it means hockey has finally arrived and hockey is here to stay.”
Veltre also believes that the consistency that having the rink to serve as their permanent home will bring is something that will provide the children with an escape, not only from school, but from every day life, as well.
“It provides consistency. Each and every year they work hard, and this year and next year they’re going to have a rink to go to, and that home away from home to go to five days a week,” Veltre explained. “It’s their escape from academics, it’s their escape from being bored, from sitting in a room all day on PlayStation 3, it’s their outlet and it’s a safe haven for them.”
The Grand Reopening event was scheduled to take place twice prior to Dec. 1, but unanticipated delays caused the postponement of those two events. While the long wait and high anticipation was frustrating, Ruppe believes the wait was well worth it.
“We could complain about every time that there’s a delay, but we’re lucky to have this because most cities don’t have something like this rink,” Ruppe said, adding “we’re very fortunate that Councilman Amador and Mayor Booker were able to keep this running.”
Ruppe cannot reiterate enough how important it was to finally have the freshly painted walls, bright lights, and brand new ice of the facility available to use permanently.
“We’re excited to have it back again, the kids deserve it, they work hard, this is where they come every day after school,” Ruppe explained. “It’s good to have this back because not only do they get to play the sport they love here, but keeps them off the streets and gives them something to do with their energy, because they’ll find something to do with it, and this is something very positive for them.”
Renada Dias, parent of two children in the program, is ecstatic about the reopening of the rink and what it provides to the children. She also believes it was well worth the wait. “The kids are so excited and it came out so beautiful,” Dias said. “It’s such a long project that we’ve all been waiting for, and I’m very happy for the kids, for the coach, all his work, and now there is much more to come. The kids are happy, we’re happy.”
Former Hockey In Newark participant and current Freshman at Princeton University Kevin Lopez is ecstatic that the rink finally received the renovations it needed during his time playing at the Ironbound Recreation Center, and the renovations have far exceeded Lopez’ expectations.
“Honestly it’s better than I expected,” Lopez explained. “Coming back from school and seeing this place, I almost ask myself ‘where did my rink go? Where did it all go?’ The lockers are beautiful, it looks like they really did invest their time and invested it well because it’s for our kids, which I’m really excited about.”
New Jersey Devils Pleased to Give Back to the Program
The New Jersey Devils have always been a strong supporter of youth hockey, and since their move to Newark in 2007, have heavily supported the Hockey In Newark program. The Devils and Devils Alumni Association have put a great deal of time and effort into assisting Hockey In Newark in any way they can. Former players and current Devils Alumni members Bruce Driver, Grant Marshall, and Ken Daneyko attended the reopening of the rink, and continue to be excited to help.
“This is such a big part of the New Jersey Devils,” said Driver. “Because of our move to Newark, everything we’ve done in the community here, we’ve tried to raise awareness of ice hockey, not just because of the Devils but having youth hockey, the program that they have here in Newark is doing really well.”
Marshall sees Hockey In Newark doing great things in the city, and is proud to be a part of it.
“The Devils always wanted to be part of something so big and so exciting for these kids to be able to come to a place where they can be off the streets and play a great game, learn a great game, and to have some camaraderie, some competition, and add some friends ships that way as well,” Marshall explained, adding “Being a part of the Devils and being a part of this city is a great honor and we’re excited about it.”
Daneyko is delighted by what Hockey In Newark has done for city children, and is also very pleased with the Devils’ effort to support the program.
“Newark has grown tremendously with youth hockey,” Daneyko said. “With the Devils’ home being right here in Newark, anytime we can continue to grow hockey, obviously with the reopening of the Ironbound rink I think this is great, we’re glad we can support them.”
— Hockey In Newark (@HockeyInNewark) December 2, 2012
Completion of Rink Renovations Bring High Expectations for Program
With the rink renovations now complete, and with the continuing support of both the City of Newark and the New Jersey Devils, Veltre and Ruppe both believe that the program will take off from here.
“I think going forward, you’ll just see this program grow,” Ruppe said. “We have about 200 kids now, in the near future we’ll have about 500 kids in this program. You’ve seen hockey grow in this city since the Devils have come in, but you’re going to see it grow even more. Hopefully every ward will have a hockey team and we’ll be able to have a city championship one day.”
“It’s the beginning of everything just exploding,” Veltre added. “It’s the beginning of us starting travel teams from all ages. It’s the beginning of our high school hockey program finally having consistent ice time, and being able to keep rolling with the momentum that we pick up as opposed to having some momentum and taking two steps back. The opportunities are going to be endless and they sky is the limit for this program.”
Where is Hockey In Newark Located?