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Ball hockey bonanza in B.C. high schools

Stick-wielding kids have long been spotted darting and deking on city streets, and in parking lots, lacrosse boxes and community centres. Now ball hockey is hitting the high schools.

Stick-wielding kids have long been spotted darting and deking on city streets, and in parking lots, lacrosse boxes and community centres. Now ball hockey is hitting the high schools.

Interest in the sport has shot high and fast among textbook-toting teens, with the inaugural B.C. high school ball hockey championships set to run May 13-15 at Port Moody Recreation Complex.

Six squads will compete in what tournament facilitator Rob Moxness is calling a "grassroots" event, with representation coming from five different communities. Teams slated to compete are Port Coquitlam's Terry Fox Ravens, the Mission Roadrunners, Stelly's Stingers of Victoria, Delta's Burnsview Griffins and the Fleetwood Park Dragons and Johnston Heights Eagles, both of Surrey.

A Surrey school teacher and 15-year competitive ball hockey player, Moxness began lobbying schools around the province last January, when he sent out a myriad of emails and reconnected with Port Moody's Tony Bellano, whom Moxness knew from the pair's playing days in the Canadian national men's ball hockey championships in 2003 and 2006, competing against Vancouver Canucks forward Alex Burrows along the way. Bellano forwarded Moxness the name Dean Whitson, a big ball hockey proponent and a Fox teacher, and the tourney got teed up faster than a Sami Salo slapper.

The positive response since -- about 100 students are expected to play in provincials -- has been pretty much what Moxness expected, with one particularly pleasant surprise.

"Stelly's from Victoria is taking the ferry and staying in hotels," Moxness said. "I didn't expect a team from outside the Lower Mainland to attend the first tournament."

At Fox, Whitson formed a team that is currently 18 students strong after it, rather surprisingly, beat a teachers' unit in overtime during the Christmas-time Intramurals championship.

"They are all passionate about ball hockey and most of them don't play ice hockey, so it gives these types of kids an opportunity to carry on with the game in a more competitive environment," said Whitson, adding he would eventually like to see ball hockey become a more established sport at the school. "The long-term goal would be to build another program that would offer the opportunity for the kids to be competitive and active, doing something they are passionate about."

With more than 6,000 youth currently playing organized ball hockey provincially, Moxness felt it was high time it graduated to the high school ranks to help keep kids in a positive, athletic environment after the bell rings.

"The educational system continues to explore programming opportunities to keep students busy after school," Moxness said. "Research shows that the peak time for youth criminality falls within the hours of 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., which underscores the need for school communities to develop meaningful, physically active and socially engaging after-school programs."

Enter ball hockey, whose novelty and cost efficiency is perfect for high schools under rigid budget constraints and their ever-curious students, Moxness believes.

"Ball hockey is a fun, affordable and all-inclusive sport that is gaining popularity with both students and their families," Moxness said. "Implementing it as an after-school program will provide many opportunities for student engagement and success. The primary goal is to provide fair, safe and equal participation for all prospective high school ball hockey athletes."

Moxness is also in the process of working with Surrey Parks and Rec to create a high school ball hockey league in the area starting next April, culminating with what he hopes will be the 2nd annual provincial tourney.

"Another goal is to officially make this high school sport all-inclusive by engaging girls and special needs [youth]," he said. "Girls are largely under-represented in both the minor and adult leagues and high school ball hockey may provide the spark for their active engagement with the sport."