Volume 79, Number 11 | August 19 - 25, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photos by John Bayles

Some recent Blacktop Street Hockey League action from Tompkins Square Park, above, celebrating a goal; below, stick-handling the ball.

Puck it! Not your average beer league in Tompkins Square

By John Bayles

All sports have their heated rivalries; in baseball, you’ve got the Yankees and Red Sox; in basketball, it’s the Lakers and the Celtics. But these pale in comparison to the intense, often ugly rivalry between the Denim Demons and the Rehabs.

“The Demons suck!” yelled Kammi Moore, wearing her team’s jersey, a black T-shirt with cutoff sleeves and the word “Rehabs” in big, pink letters. “That’s all you need to know.”

Earlier in the day the Demons had bested the Rehabs, 3-2, in an overtime game, which obviously contributed to Moore’s animosity. But according to Moore, the rivalry began with some trash-talking during a game back in 2003, on the part of the Demons, she added. A player on the Rehabs then found some “pornographic pictures” on the Web, Demon players in sundry positions, and the Rehabs printed the pictures and stuck them on the backs of their jerseys for the next game. From there, the rivalry has reached seemingly historic proportions.

“We’ve never met in the championship,” said Moore. “Last season we lost to them in the quarter-finals, but we pelted them with water balloons anyway.”

The Demons and the Rehabs are two of the 18 teams, all with equally interesting names, that make up the Blacktop Street Hockey League (B.T.S.H.) and who play their games in Tompkins Square Park on Sunday afternoons from March to October. Most of the names have stories to go along with them. The Mexican Standoffs are named after a drink at a bar frequented by the team manager. And then you have the Filthy Gorgeous, named after a Scissor Sisters song, and Cobra Kai of “The Karate Kid” fame.

Hang out at the Tompkins blacktop and you’ll hear people yelling, “Go Math!” (There’s a team named the Mathematics) and “Come on Filthy!”

But funny names aside, B.T.S.H. has become a stalwart among the recreational beer leagues that infiltrate the city’s park ball fields and blacktops during the summer. It’s nearing its tenth anniversary, and since its inception in 2000, it has expanded from six teams to 18 and expects to once again expand to 20 or 22 teams next year. There’s even a free-agent pool with players hoping to get picked up in the off season. 

The skill level ranges from nonexistent, someone who has never held a hockey stick in his or her life, to advanced, players who’ve spent years playing minor league ice hockey. 

Bob W. has been the league manager since 2002 and can always be found at the blacktop in Tompkins Square on Sundays, answering people’s questions, picking up trash and generally keeping a watchful eye over all things B.T.S.H.

Of his seven-year tenure as league manager, Bob W. said, “It’s a culture. It’s a lifestyle and it, you know, becomes your social focal point. You create so many friends and associations doing this job, and it’s really rewarding and everyone is very community minded and appreciative. Not a weekend goes by on a Sunday when I’m not thanked 25 times. And not a weekend goes by when people aren’t offering to help out in any way they can.”

B.T.S.H. is one part of the soon to be incorporated nonprofit Urban Hockey Association. Once the umbrella organization finishes the necessary paperwork to become a legitimate 501(c)(3), B.T.S.H. and its sister league, MOFO Hockey (mofohockey.org) — which plays in a rink, Moffo Rink, instead of on a blacktop, at Tanahey Park near the South Street Seaport — will be joined by a youth league that Bob W. promises will be less, er, beer oriented. 

“What we’re trying to do is to start a program that we hope to grow throughout the city — an introductory youth street hockey program, free of charge,” Bob W. explained. “It will involve basic instruction, skills and strategy. Physical fitness obviously will be part of it, and we hope to teach the kids goods sportsmanship and teamwork as well.”

He said it will be a mix of skills training and scrimmaging and will be totally separate from B.T.S.H. Bob W. said the tentative the youth league’s starting date will be sometime in the fall.

B.T.S.H., and MOFO too, is hockey in sneakers, not rollerblades or in-line skates. There’s a ball instead of a puck and there is no body checking. B.T.S.H. has other rules, such as always having at least two girls playing on the blacktop for each team. And the female factor is essential to B.T.S.H. The league was actually founded by two women; one has since moved to Los Angeles and the other stepped back to raise a child. In Bob W.’s eyes, having the girls involved is one way of making sure the machismo is kept to minimum.

“It forces the teams to incorporate the women in a meaningful way,” he said. “And it lessens the aggression. Obviously, some of the women play very aggressively. But keeping women in the mix reminds the men not to be jerks.”

Because of the two-women rule, currently it’s easier to get into the league if you’re a female. Ashley McMass is one example, currently playing in her first B.T.S.H. season. She played Division I field hockey for Columbia, just graduated and is now looking for a job. She plays on Filthy Gorgeous. Haanwa is another female and is on the Mexican Standoff. She’s been playing since 2002.

“It’s great hanging out with all these wonderful people,” McMass said. “And it’s nice exercise. It’s not like I can afford a gym membership.”

That seems to the combination that lures most of the players into B.T.S.H.: It’s an easy way to meet people from different backgrounds — there are freelance artists, engineers, physicists, musicians and doctors — and it’s a fun way to stay in somewhat decent shape. 

Eli Kazin, works in advertising and plays on the Mathematics; when the team was formed, one of the founders was in grad school for physics. Their team jerseys are gray T-shits and their logo is the variable “X” under the square-root sign. Kazin also manages the B.T.S.H. Web site (BTSH.org). His only hockey experience prior to B.T.S.H. was gym floor hockey in high school.

“It’s the only outdoor, athletic thing I do,” he noted.

Kazin said it’s a fun way to fill the weekends; athletic activity and beer drinking when there are no football games to watch on television. But Kazin, along with Bob W., also mentioned the competiveness of the league. While it’s all fun and games, some teams certainly want to be in the championship when all is said and done.

“Any time someone is keeping score, there is competition and nobody wants to be on the lower side of that score. That’s just a fact of life,” said Bob W.

Kazin said there’s the occasional suspension and players get tossed out of the games for breaking the rules or for just being stupid. When it comes to wanting to win, he echoed Bob W.’s remarks.

“It’s just an aspect of human nature. When you’re competing and keeping score, people are going to be competitive. No one wants to show up and lose every week.”

For more info on B.T.S.H., like how to join a team, visit the Web site BTSH.org .

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