Underwater Hockey

By Kerry Sullivan

The Waterford Recreation and Parks Department in Connecticut was looking for a new and inventive sport. As the program coordinator, I had discovered an activity that combined building lung capacity with my favorite sport—swimming. After seeing a video on Underwater Hockey, I implemented the program, which only required an ability to swim or snorkel. There was no discrimination based on age, ability, size, or gender.

Minimal Start-Up Costs
The department’s maintenance men got to work making goals out of PVC piping, drilling small holes in them, and filling the piping with good-sized pebbles so it would sink and remain at the bottom of the pool. The staff also made curved sticks approximately 12 inches long, drilled a hole in the handle, and put stretchy string (leftover wristbands) through them so they would remain on the wrist and would not fly away if a player was hit. The department then purchased a few 3-pound lead pucks with rubber around them. Total cost to start was approximately $40.

Counting Off
Players had to bring their own masks, fins, and snorkels; good gloves (especially garden gloves) were also needed. Games were played the width of the pool (3 feet to 6 feet in depth) with six members on each team and three others to sub in and out. With the puck placed in the middle of the pool, a count-off prompted teams to charge the puck. One member moved the puck along the bottom of the pool while teammates swam above and then dove down when the player ran out of air or had the puck stolen. While teams came up with plays, the execution of these plays didn’t always work.

There weren’t too many rules; underwater checking was even allowed. The biggest rule was that a player could not stand up! The group consisted of young boys and girls around the age of 10 all the way to 60-year-olds. Individuals varied from tiny to overweight, but this did not really matter, as the game was more about lung capacity, speed, and fun!

Mingling With Other Groups
The group traveled to different YMCAs, community centers, and municipal pools to demonstrate. The group also went to a college to see where a noted men’s team played, and members were given a real eye-opener as there were real rules—the players played the length of the pool, from 3 feet to 12 feet, which made a huge difference. They played with such grace, as our group looked like the Bad News Bears, receiving new bumps and bruises after each adventure (we enjoyed our style of play better).

The group was even challenged by a group of state police. Now these guys were buff (I mean, really buff—what a distraction), and worked out daily. I heard that one officer ran 10 miles that day, and another lifted weights, bench-pressing 240 pounds. When the police saw our team in bathing suits with attached skirts, they probably thought they were playing the New Zoo Review (for those who remember them), and Henrietta Hippo was the coach (me!). The officers considered taking it easy on us—including a 10-year-old—until one stood on the bottom of the pool to catch his breath (remember, a player can’t stand on the bottom—police or not) and got hit in the ankles by the 10-year olds. Then when Mr. Buff got “checked” into the bottom of the pool, the gloves came off! I was body-checked out of the pool, and boy, did Mr. Buff get yelled at by a teammate over that. I probably deserved it since I had my hand over the top of his snorkel as he was trying to make a breakaway, and he couldn’t get that last bit of air. The police did very well for their first time, despite losing all five games (they only scored three times; we played to 11). They had a lot of fun and learned something new. They agreed the games took a lot out of them, but pledged to return! We never saw them again.

New Life
The original group that consisted of town police officers, recreation staff, children, teachers, social workers, and others from the community played together for years, forming a bond that exists to this day. Those 10-year-olds are now 25, and the middle agers are even older. No group is playing at this time (we couldn’t find anyone from the area that has a team); however, the high school swim team uses the equipment to condition the players’ lungs for the season. The department staff also pulls out the equipment during swim lessons for the children who are about to finish level 6; they look forward to it as a reward for finishing all levels. So that $40 investment has paid for itself over and over, and we have made lasting friendships, even from underwater.

Kerry Sullivan is the Program Coordinator for the Waterford Recreation and Parks Department in Connecticut. Reach her at ksullivan@waterfordct.org.