It takes more than a village to host a tournament the size of the 2019 Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey Championships. It takes a small army of dedicated volunteers who are willing to work long hours in bone-chilling conditions for little more than a grilled brat and a pat on the back.
That’s what the local hockey community in Eagle River, Wis., has signed up for year after year for the past 14 Februarys. For many it’s a way to help reign in their children’s youth hockey tab. For others it’s a way to show off their civic pride by giving back to an event that pumps millions of dollars into the local economy.
Janet Duening-Macha started volunteering 12 years ago as a scorekeeper and today helps orchestrate those who stand ankle deep in snow banks keeping score and others who chase loose pucks around Dollar Lake. There is also a legion of volunteers who shuttle players to and from distant parking lots, as well as the Eagle River Fire Department that runs the concession stand and assists the USA Hockey ice crew. All in all, it’s a community effort that makes the event the envy of the hockey world.
“It’s draining but it’s a lot of fun,” she said. “No matter what job you have here, we’re all a team.”
Jeremy Barber recalls the first time he volunteered to work as a scorekeeper. He checked in at the administrative tent, grabbed a clipboard and headed out to stand on a snow bank game after chilly game. When no one came to relieve him, Barber continued to score games, never once taking a break. One friendly volunteer finally brought him a hamburger halfway through his shift, but he remained at his post until last game was done.
These days Barber uses his role as a member of the local youth hockey board to enlist volunteers and high school students who get credit for community service. During the tournament he spends much of his time entering scores onto the giant boards as players hover over his shoulder waiting to question the score keeper’s math. Despite the long hours and occasional razzing, he takes it all in stride.
“I’ve been doing this so long that nothing surprises me,” he said. “No matter how chaotic it may seem, it all falls into place.”