Hockey players, parents urge Pa. to change indoor sports regulations

Wednesday, August 26, 2020 | 9:09 PM

Hockey parents and players gathered at Center Ice Arena in Delmont on Wednesday evening to call for changes to the state government mandate limiting indoor athletic events.

This summer, the office of Gov. Tom Wolf released a series of safety guidelines for a return for all amateur sports, from youth to scholastic and college. Those guidelines included a limit of 25 or fewer people for indoor activities.

“Ice rinks are a unique facility in what we do,” said Josh Fajt, manager of Center Ice Arena and an official with the Allegheny Badgers amateur hockey organization, to a rally of more than 100 people.

“Each one of our (three) rinks are 17,000 square feet, and we’re being limited to 25 people. Not only is that participants, but that’s coaches, EMTs and referees, and that’s taking away the parents’ ability to watch their kids play, which is very important. Our focus right now is to get these kids on the ice to play 5-on-5 hockey with full rosters.”

Republican state Sen. Kim Ward and Rep. Eric Nelson, both of Hempfield, and Democratic state Sen. James Brewster of McKeesport spoke about the desire to give kids the chance to play.

“This is important to Eric, to me, to our communities and to our kids. I am a hockey mom,” Ward told the crowd as she pointed to a pin with the names of her three sons who played for Westmoreland Hockey.

“We have 25 people allowed — in 300 square feet, 30,000 square feet or in your living room. It makes no sense.”

Legislation in the state House, which Nelson said has bipartisan support, would help alleviate some of the burdens area rinks and teams face with the gathering limitations.

A vote on the legislation tentatively is scheduled for Sept. 1. Wolf’s 90-day disaster declaration for state response and recovery expires Sept. 6.

Ward, Nelson and Brewster implored those in attendance to contact their state representatives to voice their concerns.

“(We) want to highlight a critical thing, which is the unfair treatment of indoor sports in Pennsylvania,” Nelson said.

Wednesday’s rally was organized by Center Ice and Allegheny Hockey.

“We posted the announcement around 9:30 last night, and by 10 this morning, it had several thousand likes and over a hundred shares,” Fajt said. “Obviously, people are interested in what we are fighting for and want to do what’s best for the kids.”

Center Ice Arena is the home to several area scholastic hockey teams, including Franklin Regional, Norwin, Penn-Trafford, Kiski Area, Kiski Prep and Gateway. Hempfield and Latrobe also hold practices and some games at the facility. College programs Saint Vincent and Pitt-Greensburg also call Center Ice home.

“We can’t play full rosters because of the 25-person limit indoors, so our goal is to get that changed to 50 or to an occupancy limit,” Fajt said.

Kenneth Smith, a Cheswick resident whose son, Robert, 9 plays for the Steel City Ice Renegades at Alpha in Harmar and for the Deer Lakes school team at Frozen Pond in Valencia, said he didn’t mind the 26-mile drive to the rally to show his support.

“We just want the chance to have our kids play and for us to be able to watch them,” Smith said. “There aren’t a lot of people who come watch these (youth) games except for parents and a few other relatives. We’re able to social distance, and the teams have the ability to follow the safety guidelines. Everyone has been able to do what we’ve been asked to do so far.”

Wednesday’s rally came hours after the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League, the governing body for high school hockey in the state, sent information to teams on the status of the upcoming season.

Junior varsity and middle school games are set to begin at the end of September with numerous changes to game structure, including the number of players and coaches permitted.

Varsity games, the PIHL said, will not start until 5-on-5 games with full benches are permitted.

John Mucha, PIHL commissioner, said that if the indoor restrictions are eased by the governor or by a passed law, normal playing rules and regulations for all levels could quickly be adjusted.

“There is a lot of support for this,” Mucha said. “I think that even with the limit raised, the teams and rinks would be able to properly follow the safety guidelines.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at

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