Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Save Avenue F

Ok guys I’m going to do my best from my old puck hit memory to explain the birth and history of hockey at Avenue F from 1972 to the early 80’s when I played there.

The 70th precinct PAL had two roller hockey teams that originally played at the playground up by East 5th and Fort Hamilton Parkway. They played without boards and the games were usually on Saturdays and Sundays in the late 60’s through very early 70’s. They were the Ryan’s Northstars and the Terrace Rangers. Local bars sponsored both teams.  Which in hindsight is actually funny because we were just kids. The guys who ran the league back then were; Fred Allen, Bill Webster, Jerry Cartalano, Mr. Pierce, Joe Romano, Louie DeBiasi, Richie Kenna and many that others I forgot.

These men were all pretty much tough “blue collar” guys that didn’t take shit from anyone including us teenagers.  They also did more for us than anyone else because of the time and devotion they put into the league.

On any given Saturday or Sunday back then there were probably around a hundred people either watching or participating in the games up by the playground on Fort Hamilton and East 5th. Especially when IHM let out after mass, that’s when the place would fill up and it was standing room only!

Now a couple of the older guys who ran the league either worked for the Parks Department or had some kind of affiliation with the city. So when we heard there was going to be an actual rink being built down by McDonald Avenue near Avenue F we were all quite excited.  We also knew that it would happen much faster than normal because they worked for NYC Parks and oversaw the McDonald Avenue Park before the rink was actually there.

No back then you just got things done period.

My cousin Pete has a vague memory of some Italian construction company doing the paving work down by F during the summer of 1972.  The fence piping and the plywood were all put up by the guys who ran the league back then and also with the help of some of the older teenage players who were skilled and strong enough.

Ok, I’m going to say that the original Avenue F was built in the Fall of 1972.

The cool thing about Avenue F from what I recall is we were the first roller hockey rink in Brooklyn to have curved corners vs. the angled corners that both 53rd and Kings Bay had.  And the guys that ran the league were quite proud of that too!

I think they held some kind of painting party and many of the boys that played in the league helped paint the boards, the blue lines, face-off circles, goalie creases, etc.

The original nets that were lightweight aluminum were given up for much heaver steel nets that could not be blown down by the wind. I clearly remember our original nets being held by sand bags up on East 5th when we played there. And for the record I still have one of the original nets and my cousin Pete has the other. Patty DeSimone traded us the two nets for a motor scooter back in 1971 or so.
Patty no longer has the motor scooter but we have the nets!!! I still use the net today to shoot into on my block here on East 4th.

The rink was originally named the Billy Powell Memorial Hockey Rink after a young player was killed by a car on the way to one of the games early one Sunday morning. Billy was killed by the circle by Prospect Park down by the Coney Island Avenue/PPSW/Ocean Parkway merge. We were all in shock that morning to learn that he was killed on his way to the game. We had a ceremony one day before a game and there was even a sign erected on the fence outside the rink.

It was never known as the DiGilio Playground when we played there.

Well, we had refs, score boards, dozens of fans and the action was always quite intense. There were fights galore, playoff games, crowds cheering on the park benches, rivalries, hockey dinners, trophies, crying after a tough loss and celebrations after you won the coveted “Kenna Cup”. The Kenna Cup was our equivalent of the Stanley Cup and you better believe that when my team won it we skated around the rink and held it up to the sky just like any other NHL Pro team would.

We had our annual hockey dinners at the Farragut Terrace and one time we even had Bill Chadwick appear in person to speak.

We even once had a nighttime Roller Disco party down at the rink around 1975 or so. There was music, food and hundreds of people enjoying a night out by the rink. The Parks department even brought in floodlights to make it well lit at night. There was even talk of installing floodlights for nighttime games like at 53rd street.

Those were the Glory Days at Avenue F and we thought it would never end.

The 70th Pct Pal continued to run the league down by F into the early 80’s from what I recall. I “retired” at 17 but then came out of retirement at 19 to play again for another team at F. They were Richie Kenna’s Flyers and once again there were fights, friendships, intense playoff games and the same feel that we all felt 10 years before.

But then things changed for many of us, we were too old to play, some guys got married, some found girlfriends and hockey started to take a back seat to other things.

I think the wave of us “Baby Boomer” guys took over Avenue F and then left just like we arrived.

I remember coming out of “retirement” one more time when I was 33 years old. I remember going down to F in 1990 and looking at a wasteland of what were the best years of my life. My goalie crease had a giant crack in it and my roller blades were constantly getting stuck in it. Making saves were difficult because of the bumpy goalie crease and the large fault line-like crack. I came down one day after we played and fixed the crack with some automotive bond so I could glide over it smoothly. We started to play on Sunday mornings at 8 am and we brought down our nets. There were regulars that played there and we had a great time just playing “choose-up”.

But then again things changed and hockey again took another back seat to children and marriage.

But then one day in the late 90’s I remember seeing that the court was totally redone. The surface looked awesome and the boards were actually real ice hockey boards as opposed to the plywood that I always remember. There was a banner that said “South Brooklyn Roller Hockey” and I was so happy to see the court being used again.  I knew some of the guys running the league and even thought about getting involved again. But sadly I never did.

I’m not sure what happened to that league but what I always did notice was that the court was constantly being used on the weekends. There were young guys always down there and it was nice to see the court in action. From what I understand the court was even being cared for by these kids and they went out of their way to make sure they were maintaining it while NYC Parks was not.

Councilman David Greenfield should know that the rink is being used as much as it was when I was a kid. Although there is not a league there the rink is being skated on by humans and the fun and laughter is still what I remember when I was 17. The guys by playing there keep a lot of riff-raff out of the park and without them it would probably look like a wasteland.

There is plenty space in that park to accommodate both hockey and a nice renovation. Tear out the grandstand behind the rink and do as you please. The guys don’t use the grandstand anyway.

But more important is maybe, just maybe young kids will start using the rink again if the rest of the park is more palatable.  Because right now the rest of that park looks pretty scary and yes it can use a sprucing up.

It is also important to remember the history behind the Avenue F Roller Rink. The blood, sweat and tears that were shed there. The hundreds if not thousands of people that played there and still do today including me.

Please Councilman Greenfield, try to make a compromise of some sort and be a hero to all, don’t let the memory of so many men who put so much time into that rink go to waste. Because the Avenue F rink is more than just an open space looking to be replaced by adult exercise equipment and a few trees.

Avenue F rink has been a local institution since 1972 and is still an active rink in 2015. Being used today by many people to enjoy the same way we did as young adults in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Building friendships and memories that will last forever while playing a sport you love so very much.

That’s something an adult exercise area will never ever do while a hockey rink can. Please consider that thought before destroying the rink.

Thank you,
Ron Lopez
399 East 4th Street
Brooklyn, NY, 11218