Friday, February 6, 2009


We wept, Brooklyn was a lovely place to hit. If you got a ball in the air, you had a chance to get it out. When they tore down Ebbets Field, they tore down a little piece of me.

Duke Snider

When I was nine years old I watched a Wide World of Sports segment that highlighted a Stanley Cup Match that featured the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Detroit Red Wings.Shortly after I begged my mother to let me play hockey. At the time there were two clubs in the DC area that had programs, Chevy Chase Country Club, which was closed to non-members and the Capital Boys Hockey Club. So it was that on dark Sunday morning my mom took me to Washington Colliseum, the home rink of the CBHC to start my career.

Upon our arrival my mother informed the coaching staff that I had never skated before but that I was really interested in playing. They replied, well all we have for kids like him is house league. I went on the ice to try out and my mother took a seat in one of the dark cavernous sections of arena and watched. No one greeted her or made her feel welcome.

I can still see her sitting in the dark by herself. No one was openly hostile, but it was clear that we were regarded as interlopers. Fast forward to Benfield Ice Arena in the year 2002. Cathy Stamper, the daughter of Morgan Wooten, one of the greatest basketball coaches to ever lace on a pair of sneakers brought her son Nick to Benfield for the expressed purpose of getting him into the hockey program. Like hundreds of other parents who brought their kids to Benfield to learn the game of hockey, she was lucky to meet up with one Ken Milliken, or as my son calls him, the famous “ Coach Ken. I saw history repeat itself but this time in a positive way. Like my mother Ms. Stamper was concerned that her son had never played before.“ Don’t worry he will be fine, Ken advised. Nick was brought on to the ice that day, and after some great coaching from Ken and the rest of the Benfield staff, (and some hard work on his part), he is a now vital member of the Viper Pee Wee Squad.

I tell you story because as most of you know by know Benfield Ice Arena has gone the way of Ebbets Field and the Boston Garden. But buildings in the end are only brick and mortar, in the end it is the people that matter. For those of us who skated at Benfield Coach Ken was a superlative teacher, counselor and friend. He had a unique ability to lend encouragement and advice to kids just at the right time. Unlike far too many youth coaches in this day and age, Ken didn’t pay lip service to the idea of learning the game and having fun, rather he lived it every time he took a group of kids on the ice. His methods at Benfield were the antithesis of the all too common attitude of “ oh, you never played before? Well you’ll have to play house league, Next!

But while Ken was the Winston Churchill of ice hockey aficionados in Anne Arundel County he was only one of the many people that made Benfield special. For those who have never played hockey it is hard to relate just how much the facility will be missed.

"Even someone who has played the game only a short time can relate to the word of the former Chicago Black Hawk Eric Nesterenko, who once told the author Studs Terkel." I love it when I'm in full flight. I'm leaning into a turn. You pick up the centrifugal forces and you lay in it. For a few seconds, like a gyroscope, they support you. I'm in full flight and my head is turned. I'm concentrating on something and I'm grinning. That's the way I like to picture myself. I'm something else there. I'm on another level of existence, just being in pure motion."

One can sense the joy in his words. This was the kind of thing that Benfield and Ken were able to bring to so man people.

So as tribute to Ken and the thousands of figure skaters hockey players who no longer have a home I have propostion. Just for a moment, could we as a state and as a country stop trying so hard to build slot parlors that will raise lots of tax dollars but also ruin millions of lives in the process. Mr. McConkey, Ms. Vitale, Speaker Bush, we need a new ice arena . Laying a down a new sheet of ice for the youth of our county will not solve all our problems but a new rink will help our kids far more than a slew of despicable unfeeling one armed bandits. After all we should never forget that building children is better than mending adults. Ken Milliken has never forgotten this and neither should we. The Ice Man Goeth, but for the sake of our kids, we should be sure that his legacy endures.

No comments: