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Local Volunteers Remain Lifeblood of USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships

By Dan Scifo, 02/16/23, 2:05PM MST


Dozens of Eagle River locals come together each year to host the event

Lou Deditz does his best to make his volunteers feel significant.

Deditz coordinated the local officials for the USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships this past weekend in Eagle River, Wis., something he has done every year since the event started in 2006. 

“When you have people who volunteer their time, it’s key to keep them feeling important,” Deditz said. “They’re doing something to help the community and it’s a family event. I had dads as referees, moms as scorekeepers and the kids helping out picking up garbage or filling the puck bucket.”

Deditz, who has lived in Eagle River his whole life, has been involved in all 17 Pond Hockey National Championships, including the last five or six helping to coordinate officials. This year’s event featured men’s and women’s divisions, including 231 teams from 31 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces with more than 420 games played.

“Volunteers are the lifeblood to the event,” Deditz said. “It’s more than the refs and the scorekeepers. It’s the volunteers from the fire department, who work year-round to make this event happen, it’s the volunteers who flood the rink … it’s everyone.”

The USA Hockey Officiating Program selects about 20 officials from across the country to participate and the rest of the games are covered by Deditz’screw of 10 or so local volunteers. This provides some experienced officials to cover the higher skill level games, while still offering opportunities to local volunteers to work preliminary and playoff games.

“They’re all affiliated with hockey in some form, but at the same time, it’s pond hockey and it’s supposed to be fun,” Deditz said. “I tell the players, we’re not here to solve world hunger and nothing here is worth getting hurt over. It’s all about having fun.”

Deditz not only tries to make his current volunteers feel important; he also loves to include entire families, particularly younger kids, who could eventually serve as the next generation of volunteers for future events.

“When you stay involved in something like this as a youngster, you grow up as a teen playing, and as you get older, you still want to be part of the sport,” Deditz said. “The young kids could be doing so many other things, but it’s nice to see them take the time to come out, volunteer and be part of the community event.”

Julia Weber has also participated in the event since its inception. Weber is originally from Eagle River, but she now lives in Sheboygan, Wis., and annually makes the near four-hour drive to volunteer.

“When it first started, I was in high school and we would get out of school to help officiate, be a scorekeeper, pick up trash … anything to help out,” Weber said. “When I went to college, I would make it a point to come back every year and even as an adult, I still carve out a long weekend to make it to [Eagle River] and help the locals.”

In addition to volunteering, Weber has also been a Level 3 USA Hockey official for almost 15 years. She worked 22 games at this year’s Pond Hockey National Championships, which also included three championship tilts on Sunday.

Her father Pat Weber served as one of the main organizers to start the event when it only featured several rinks. Now, Julia Weber returns home and stays with her parents for the weekend, as the tournament has grown into a national event.

“This livens up the town and people come in to see what we have to offer,” she said. “We’re a small town, but we have a huge hockey pulse. This event is a good time and everyone looks forward to it every year.”

Deditz said the city of Eagle River, home to about 1,500 people, eagerly awaits to host the event every year as well. In addition to the Pond Hockey National Championships, Eagle River also hosts the World Championship Snowmobile Derby, the Snowmobile Hall of Fame, and the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame.

At its core, Deditz said that Eagle River is a hockey town.

“This is a great shot in the arm, it’s a great boost to the economy, and it’s great for the community,” Deditz said. “I’ve seen it passed from generation to generation and I think it’s important to keep that tradition alive. I look forward to it every year and I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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