Ice dreams for everyone
Ice dreams for everyone
ANNVILLE -- So you think you like hockey? Friend, you've got nothing on Josh Nelson.
Do you like hockey enough to simultaneously coach four different teams, with kids ranging in age from 4 to high school seniors, without receiving a nickel for your efforts?
Josh Nelson does.
Do you like it enough to play your own games at 9:30 or 10:30 p.m., after a day of work followed by coaching two other games earlier in the evening?
Josh Nelson does.
And do you like it enough to spend parts of, say, the last eight years building a 38-by-64-foot rink in your yard, complete with nets, lights and boards, while waiting and hoping for freezing temperatures?
That's right ... Josh Nelson does.
"With the four teams, I had to learn 60 kids' names this year, at the beginning of the season,'' said Nelson, of Mount Joy. "And all the parents. It took me a couple weeks.
"I had to call the names out at my son's first tournament of the season, and I had so many names going through my head, I just kind of froze. ... I'm going to get labels next year, I believe.''
Surely there will be a next year for Nelson, 34, the head of a hockey-minded household that's just a goalie shy of fielding its own family team.
There's his wife, Danelle, who might also be considered the inspiration for this story on skates. Because the way Josh tells it, he wasn't interested in the game until they started dating, and he started playing roller hockey with Danelle's stepdad.
Then Josh got into a learn-to-play program, and the puck, shall we say, was flying.
"I used to make fun of him, so he put me in the men's learn-to-play,'' Danelle said last week, before a Manheim Central game at Klick Lewis Arena. "He made me go through the clinic because I was so critical. I did OK, I wasn't too bad.
"I don't make fun of him as much any more.''
Neither does Danelle play, but she is very much involved in and supportive of her husband's efforts.
For example, she does the off-ice work involved in running hockey programs, which has reached a new level now that Josh is coaching the first-year high school and middle school teams at Manheim Central.
That means there are parents and players to keep informed, fundraisers to organize and execute --ice hockey is not a varsity sport in Lancaster County schools, so it receives no funding -- equipment to obtain and ice time to schedule and pay for.
There is dinner, which the Nelsons have daily at 4 p.m. sharp so Josh and the kids can be on their way. And if it's a Manheim Central game night, Danelle attends along with the Nelson children -- Madalyn, 12; Austin, 10; Laci, 6; and Brooke, 4.
"This is the only time I get to see him, so if I want to see him I have to come to the rink,'' Danelle said, smiling.
About the kids ... Madalyn plays defense for the Regency Panthers, and she just completed a referee clinic, so she can wear the striped sweater, too. Austin is a forward for the Hershey Junior Bears. Josh helps coach both of those teams.
Laci and Brooke, meanwhile, are learning to skate, and Dad takes part in their classes on Saturday mornings. Then during the week he plays in the Regency Sportsrink men's adult league, late at night, after the Manheim Central game is over and the kids are in bed.
Manheim Central is a new entry in the Central Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League, and Nelson's teams are learning in the heat of battle against much more experienced opponents. They haven't won a game, but he's encouraged by their progress and attitude.
The parents, Nelson said, are great. They're learning along with their kids, and helpful whenever possible.
"Every home game, it takes 5-6 parents to do all the duties we're responsible for besides coaching,'' he said, "and they've really stepped up and done their part.''
That includes fundraising, without which the sport wouldn't exist at this level. The Nelsons said ice time for this year's high school games will cost $6,000; middle school games will add up to $4,500. We haven't even mentioned the costs of practice time, or equipment, or required clinics for coaches, or USA Hockey registration fees.
But interest in ice hockey is growing, and Nelson hopes that he and his family can help it grow for years to come. He also feels very fortunate to have the kind of job -- he's a building inspector -- that affords him flexibility.
As for all the coaching ...
"I'm really hoping it's not just a one-year thing,'' he said. "I'm hoping it goes for a long time, and we'll do the school thing long after our kids are out of it, if it's still going. It's something we really enjoy doing.''
And who knows? Maybe with a little coaxing, Danelle will try on those goalie pads.
nFor the Nelson family of Mount Joy, hockey is not so much a pastime as it is a shared love.