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#HockeyIsBack in Jacksonville

By Dave Pond, 06/10/20, 3:15PM MDT


Director of Hockey Operations Jeff Bloomer oversees six divisions of adult league team play at the Jacksonville Ice & Sportsplex, with more than 425 adult athletes on 30-plus teams competing five nights a week. However, when the pandemic hit, adult hockey came to a screeching halt.

“We shut down March 18,” Bloomer said. “When the pro leagues shut down, I thought that it would be a long, tough road back. It was a tough time for fans, players and teams alike.”

But Jacksonville adult hockey has bounced back quickly, thanks to rink staff and players following the necessary guidelines to keep everyone safe.

During their downtime, Jacksonville staffers made fresh ice and got to work cleaning, repairing and sanitizing everything they could so their facility would be ready to open following any guidelines that would be put in place.

“We’re fortunate to be in a state that has mitigated the spread of the disease sufficiently enough for Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry and Florida governor Ron DeSantis to take the lead in reopening,” said Jacksonville Ice & Sportsplex owner Mark Scheff. “After cleaning and sanitizing our facility and purchasing the equipment and supplies necessary to maintain a safe environment, we started offering private ice skating lessons in early April.”

Coaches began making lessons available for one to three skaters each morning, in hopes of minimizing face-to-face interaction and the potential for COVID-19 spread. The proof, as they say, would be in the pudding.

“We really needed the public to show us that this is what they wanted,” Bloomer said. “If we opened and they didn’t want to come to the building, it would be all for naught. Turns out, our customers were really excited — they jumped all over the lessons, and our coaches were booked solid for weeks.”

Following new state and federal guidelines and health policies, Jacksonville Ice & Sportsplex was able to resume operations at the beginning of May.

“Our staff put a lot of time over several weeks, thinking about protocols and how to best implement them,” Bloomer said. “We participated in several USA Hockey webinars and used the USA Hockey’s ‘Returning to the Rinks’ to help us find our path back to getting on the ice safely.”

Winter adult leagues restarted May 9, while weekend youth clinics came back May 16, and Stick & Puck launched May 18. Players and staff alike have jumped on board with the facilities’ new policies and procedures because they can play the sport they love in a safe environment.

Here are a few other notable changes Scheff and his staff have made around the rink:

  • Thermal scans at the facility entrance.
  • Masks for the entire staff (including referees — who also use electronic whistles).
  • No fans, siblings or “extra” people in the building.
  • All registrations and bookings are handled online or over the phone before arrival.

Overall, 88% of adult league players returned for the resumption of their winter season, which concluded Memorial Day weekend. Upon reopening, each team was given two locker rooms instead of one, with access limited to 20 minutes before and after the game.

To further prevent potential COVID-19 spread, games are held a minimum of 45 minutes apart to allow staffers enough time to clean and sanitize the facility. Locker rooms are also “fogged” during games.

“A great deal of thought and research has gone into our plan, and there have been few surprises to date,” Scheff said. “The greatest lesson I learned was to prepare well in advance and get information from as many sources as possible along the way — if it means purchasing equipment and supplies, you need to be prepared for long lead times.”

“I’ve been in contact with ice rinks throughout the U.S., Canada and even the Netherlands, and we have shared policies and procedures. We’re are all looking for the same answers.”

Bloomer said he’s expecting 26-28 adult teams for the summer session, with more players coming back as the weeks go by. Private lessons continue to be booked solid, while youth clinics and Stick & Puck sessions are maxed out as well.

“This just shows that our players want to be on the ice just as much as we want them to be,” Bloomer said. “It can be done, and leagues can be run safely and successfully. Just seeing our players’ smiles and their excitement on the ice — it’s why we love what we do.”

Five Keys to Jacksonville Ice & Sportsplex’s Successful Reopening

Mark Scheff is the owner and executive manager of Jacksonville Ice & Sportsplex. As a “veteran” of the reopening process following COVID-19, he shared what he learned while getting back up to speed.

  1. Communicate – Keep your customers informed. They appreciate the transparency and will be more likely to be compliant with the new rules.
  2. Clean and sanitize your facility – The level of cleanliness must be obvious and palpable to the public from the moment they walk in your front door.
  3. Provide PPE — Provide staff with all necessary safety equipment and make its use mandatory. You will need to retrain your staff, as this is a “muscle memory” they’ll need to adjust to.
  4. Position temperature stations at all entry points – These reflect the seriousness we are taking their safety and give the public a sense of security.
  5. Schedule extra time during programming — This makes it easier to follow gathering guidelines and helps keep the number of people in your facility to a minimum.

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