Hockey in Yuma might sound like an oxymoron.
How can one of the warmest places with endless sunshine support such a sport? Well, the City of Yuma has an inline hockey rink tucked away at Kennedy Park.
During Fall, the Yuma Youth Hockey League (YYHL) fills the rink with children ages five to 18. Four of the league’s volunteer coaches are employees at Yuma Proving Ground (YPG).
Ordinance Disposal Technician Justin Schaeffer is one of those coaches and was recently elected to serve as a board member. His family is heavily involved with nine of his children playing hockey.
“I like to pass on the love for the game to the younger generations,” explained Schaeffer.
“There's nothing like the smile on the little ones faces when they score that first goal!” Schaeffer even garnered support of his friends who sponsored his team the IAM Strykers.
Chris Kline, who works in the Instrumentation Division echoes the sentiment, “My favorite part is when a kids scores his first goal and they come back to the bench and they have a smile on their face and it will not disappear for about three weeks.”
This season is Kline’s first time coaching his own team. The last two seasons he filled in when his son’s team needed a coach. Coaches serve on a volunteer basis, and for YPG employees that’s after their 10-hour work day.
“Somedays I will get in to work about 6:15 a.m. and not get home until 8 at night. There are long days but I don’t mind. I love it,” said Kline.
Air Delivery Systems Branch Chief Ryan Tiaden knows all about those long hours at the rink. He played ice hockey growing up in Minnesota and first got involved with coaching three years ago when his son was old enough. Now he’s coaching his son and his daughter’s team. He spends four nights a week at the rink.
“There’s not a huge pool of people with hockey experience in Yuma and it was an opportunity for me to be involved,” explained Tiaden.
His daughter loves having him involved and tells everyone her dad is the coach.
“It makes me feel really good that I am part of her life in that way. I can be a good role model for her on how to be a good adult and how to support your community,” remarks Tiaden.
Also, logging four visits to the rink weekly is YPG Fire Fighter, YYHL vice-president, coach and dad of two players, Brad Gray. “I got heavily back into it because of my kids. It’s something that me and my kids enjoy and love.”
While the days are long for these coaches, their work with the league is rewarding and helping the program grow. This recreation season YYHL had its highest enrollment in a very long time with nearly 200 kids playing.
Tiaden praises the YYHL, “It’s great. It’s definitely focused on the right things, which is a good experience for the kids to grow. Hockey is a tool they use to help grow these kids to be successful adults and create that positive team environment that I think is necessary for that success.”
YYHL league hosts games Monday-Thursday and the season tournament is Nov. 20-21.