This is painfully long, but I think to get the entire picture you need all the details. I may miss something and add to it later, but here it is. My journey of trying to start and maintain what I think is a positive for the city of Toledo, but the battle to keep it going has become too much. The Toledo Street Hockey League is a non-checking recreational foot and roller hockey league that is based on sportsmanship and competition. Our rules are based on giving a 100 pound young player the same opportunity to be successful as the 300 pound man. Also, it is based on sportsmanship and respect. There is no yelling at the referees for a call. Playing hard and respecting other teams, players, league staff, and property is the most important and monitored at all times. Failure to follow these guidelines will get you ejected from the league.
In 2008, I looked for a form of hockey recreation, but found none except Tam-O-Shanter and the Ice House. Because it is in such demand (ice time), the costs are high (about $400 just for ice time), and there was a waiting list to even join. Being from Pittsburgh, Pa., where there was outdoor foot and roller hockey, I thought I could start something on my own.
I searched the city for an unused tennis court to get started on. I found the court at Joe E. Brown unused so I contacted the recreation department. Of course there was no money to remove the net posts or anything, so I submitted a proposal in which I would do all the work and be responsible for the area, just needed permission.
I got permission and removed the poles, painted lines, built hockey nets and even cleaned up the regular amount of broken glass, trash, etc. from the area. What started out as an idea became 6 teams and 2 seasons by the end of the year. For our championship game, I invited Carty out to drop the ceremonial ball. He said that he was impressed and told me that he wanted me to meet with the recreation and neighborhood departments so that this could continue. During our stay at Joe E. Brown we dealt with local kids riding bikes up to where we had our equipment and trying to and even stealing things. Having to ask the person living in the port-o-potty to get out so we could use it, and even had a group of kids turn over the trash barrels to climb up on top of the pavillion roof and throw bottles and garbage at us while we were playing. Another time we had someone from the city come out on a Saturday afternoon and tell us that we could no longer park on the grass. Something that the baseball players did regularly, and something that we had been doing for months, that I personally monitored to make sure no damage was done to the grass.
One positive thing that came out of playing there was a little boy named Marquis. Marquis was a 6 year old black kid who wanted to play but had no means of getting any equipment to play. Because of this, my wife started the "Sticks and Skates for Kids" program. This program collects used equipment and keeps it for anyone who wants to play, but don't have the means to obtain it on their own.
By the end of 2008's summer season, we had 10 teams, a kid's division, and did several media snipits like WTOL morning show, 92.5 morning show, and even a BCSN broadcast game.
At the time, we were criticized about using a tennis court when BG has a beautiful outdoor roller rink which is lighted at night. Since I lived in Toledo and named the league after Toledo, I did not want to move or play in BG.
My long term goals at this poing was that if enough people knew and played in the league, maybe, just maybe, the city would step up and get us our own rink, or at least help us do that.
At this point, the city had given us nothing. No money, no electricity, no water, no nothing.
So I met with neighborhoods and recreation. They asked me what I needed to continue doing this because it was a positive thing. I told them that I was hauling the hockey nets around on the back of my van because I couldn't leave them there and was there anywhere else we could play. They offered 3 places. One was in point place. The surface there had a peak in the middle of it. The other place was across from the projects on Dorr street. Looked worse then where we were now. And Ravine Park II.
Ravine Park II was awesome. It was 8 tennis courts side by side that hadn't been used in about 7 years. It had a little building there with running water (bathrooms-yeah!). I had asked for some kind of scoreboard and the city gave us a little electronic scoreboard. So we set out as a group and made a plan to build a rink.
NOTE-the league exists only through the volunteer efforts of numerous people and money taken in from entry fees are used to pay for ther referees, game balls, championship awards, etc. There is no profit.
Our plan for Ravine Park II was this, all approved by the city. Take all the little sections of fence from the openings and install them to enclose the entire courts to keep people out when we weren't there. We would have to jack hammer the concrete out from around the net poles and pour our own concrete back in their place. Trim the trees and weeds/bushes that were overgrown. Repair the numerous cracks, holes, etc in the surface. Then, by getting a handful of referees to donate their time for free, we could take the entry fees and buy materials to build rink boards. With a little over $3000 we bought wood, screws, etc. and started building our very own rink. We designed it and we were buidling it. Of course, someone didn't want us to be there and called the police on a sunday that we were working. The police made us stop. I tried to explain to the police that we had permission from the city, but he compared us to motocross riders who ride on private property and leave once the cops come. I asked him if he thought I would just "leave" $3000 worth of wood there, or why I'd just start building something without permission, but he didn't want to hear any of it. That Monday morning I had to go get official paperwork to show that I was allowed to build there. What a joke.
Anyway, with over $5000 invested and numerous hours of labor, we had our own rink. This wasn't a thrown together piece of crap, but a nicely built and painted rink. A couple of months went by and while we could use the electricity, the water could not be used because some water line under the concrete had broken and needed to be bypassed in order to turn on the water to the toilets. After a month of having no restrooms there, I bypassed the line with a new one out of the league's budget.
Also, it was during our time there that the city was having trouble mowing all the grass. So I took league money, bought a used riding mower, repaired it, and cut the grass around the court and surrounding area. Even though I built a welded steel door for the court that we could lock, we still had some thief climb the fence and steal chairs, one hockey net, etc.
2009 was a good year for the league. We established a rulebook, trained referees, and even held our very first "Kings of the Rink" charity tournament. This is a one weekend tournament where we pick a local charity and take donations instead of entry fees. Everything we get and raise goes directly to the charity. To date, we have collected for the Cherry Street Mission, the YWCA battered women's shelter, and this year Makayla Hady. She is a local 2 year old girl with leukemia.
At the end of 2009, we took down the sheets of wood on the boards to protect them from winter, but removing the boards completely is impossible due to their contruction.
2010-The spring season was going along well until we noticed some contruction stakes all over the park. I called and asked if we were in trouble of losing our "home" and was told that there was no worries. It was just being surveyed. About a month later I was told that the entire place was being bulldozed to make way for the memorial park for the bridge workers who died on the skyway bridge. We were given about a month to be out. I tried to explain that I had no place to store an entire rink, and even if I did, the rink was not made to be taken down. I was given the old, "yeah, we're sorry too" speech.
Upset and discouraged, I was offered to come look at the Ottawa Park Ice rink to see if we could possibly play there. I went to look at it and since it was our only option, I agreed. We were able to finish our year at the ice rink at no cost, but we lost over $5000 of our property in the rink when it was bulldozed.
The ice rink is a great place, but not ideal for roller hockey. First, the primary purpose of the ice rink is ice hockey. So from November to April it is for ice. We played at the tennis courts from March til December, usually. Also, the rink surface is painted concrete. Great to make ice on, but any moisture makes it impossible to skate on.
The first problems we had was the water removal. If it rained at the tennis court, we could squeegee the puddles and be playing within a half hour. When it rains at the ice rink, you have to remove every drop of water to even skate safely. We tried many ways to remove the water. Squeegees, shop vacs, blowers, etc. Finally, I designed and built riding mowers that had giant sqeegees on their fronts like snow plows to remove the water. They work pretty well.
We got through the rest of 2010 and started to make plans for 2011.
I worked at the ice rink that winter as one of the rink managers.
In 2011 I asked if we could use the lights because we were limited to game days due to calender and with lights, we could play later to make up cancelled games.
We reached an agreement with the recreation department to pay a monthly fee and only use the lights as necessary. We barely used the lights, and when we did, it was for an hour or 2 on Sat and Sundays only for make up games.
In October, the city was scheduled to do repairs to the roof of the rink building. We were made aware of it, and they had done work there before while we were there without any problems. This time it was different. Because anyone can come off the street into the building and there is a lot of equipment there from people changing for games, I put up 2 security cameras. Cheap vcr cameras to keep an eye on things while we were there. So if anything got stolen, we could see it and hopefully catch it. We did catch someone stealing money, and some equipment, so it was a good move.
One Weds night after the city had begun work on the building, we arrived for a kid's practice to find that someone had stolen soda and other items from our concession area. I contacted my contact in the recreation department and was assured that it would be taken care of. That same Friday, more stuff was gone. Now, this was not stuff left on the counter. This was candy, ice cream, soda, paper towels, cleaning products, and trash bags that were inside rubbermaid containers.
I was pissed and expressed that to my recreation representative. I was told to submit a list of what was stolen and that it would be taken care of. We locked up as much as we could in one of the locker rooms that weekend, and also set the cameras to record during the day there. What we recorded was awful. Here we city of toledo workers, screwing off, talking on the phone for at least 30 mins, numerous bathroom trips, and the kicker is that they slept on benches in the rink when they were supposed to be working. 3 times in one day they layed out and slept. For 45 minutes after they ate their lunch. I didn't do anything with the tapes because I didn't want to cause trouble, just get back what was stolen.
I submitted the list of stolen items 3 times, but heard nothing. I called a supervisor of one department. He told me that he was instructed not to get involved. I explained to him that if no one was willing to help me then maybe they should see what their workers are doing there all day. He told me to call his supervisor. I did not, but the same gentleman called me later that night and wanted to meet at Bob Evans in the morning for breakfast. I agreed. I thought we were going to settle everything, but what happened was that after he arrived, a waitress came over and gave me a paper bag filled with $100 that she said was left by someone for me. Long story short, I gave the money back to the guy.
I then wrote the mayor and included partial copies of the tapes. One even had a worker going into a refrigerator and taking our gatorade. Another had a worker taking one of our clipboards. I got a letter one day from the city telling me that my claim about stuff being stolen was dismissed and that the tape show nothing but one bottle getting taking and the city worker had his own clipboard. After sitting through 2 weeks of video tape, I had never seen any city worker with a clipboard but that one time when he took that one.
NOTE-when the TSHL is in the rink, I clean the restrooms, provide toilet paper, paper towels, etc. I shop vac the inside of the building to keep it clean. The players aren't even allowed to hit the boards with their sticks. No smoking, etc. We look after it like it is our own.
In November of 2011, I contacted recreation and asked to get a lease signed to make plans for 2012. They agreed, and I got a lease for 2012 that gave me use from April 1st to end of September and use of lights as necessary. I was also told that as soon as the rink is done making ice due to weather, we could get in to start our season.
It was around this time that because of the neighborhood scandal, recreation was transferred back to Parks and Recreation. I hear about this in the news and contacted the head of parks, Dennis Garvin. He told me on the phone that he planned on honoring the agreement as written. This was probably Jan 2012. Looking forward to a new season, I contacted the roller league in Lima, Ohio, and even the newly started BG league to set up a 3 site tournament for all of us to hold. As stated before, we are limited by the calender so game times/days are scheduled way in advance to fit in 2 seasons. Fees are set based on expenses and not profit.
In March 2012, I emailed Dennis Garvin and asked for a meeting to meet face to face to introduce ourselves since we were going to be dealing with each other. I also called after I heard that on March 2nd, they were done making ice for the season. I was told that I could get start moving into the rink on March 19th to start getting ready for our season. Mr. Garvin's secretary set up a meeting with me for Thurs, March 8th.
I went to the meeting planning on it being just a meet and greet, but Mr. Garvin had other plans. As soon as we introduced ourselves, he started with his line of questioning. "You got a pretty sweet deal up there". "You know it costs money to use lights". "Usually, you should pay lights and water, and cut the grass for something you rent from the city". It was him, and 2 other city workers in the meeting. I asked him that if there as a problem with the lease, it would have been better to bring it up months ago before I planned on having so many games. I tried to explain how my budget was set months before the season and making changes less than a month before it started was next to impossible to change. He wanted me to pay for the lights. I asked how much does it cost? He did not know and said that he would find out. As we finished this, I asked when I could get the key for March 19th, but he then said, "No, we're gonna stick with April 1st".
So the following Monday, I called Mr. Garvin and asked him if there was something the league or myself had done to get him upset and how could we resolve this. His response still has me baffled today. He said, "I said that we'd honor the agreement as written. No lights, and starting April 1st." I tried to ask how can you honor an agreement if you change it, and he told me to take it or leave it and hung up on me.
Not wanting to, but stuck I contacted 2 players in the league that are in politics. They told me that they would come with me to get the key. I called to ask Mr. Garvin when I could get the key and he said, "You're not". I asked why and he tried to say that I wanted everything and I couldn't have it. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. This guy is nuts. Anyway, after kissing his butt on the phone we set up that friday. Which really just pissed me off because I wasn't permitted in the rink til April 1st, a Sunday, but I was getting the key on Friday. That means although nothing was going on Sat. I couldn't go in.
Friday all three of us went in to meet Mr. Garvin. He pulled out a new agreement and we raised the question why it had been changed. One of the gentlemen I was with asked the question and Mr. Garvin turned to him and said, "And who are you?". Which is funny, because apparently they have sat in city meetings several times and know each other. Anyway, after getting nowhere, we left and headed to the mayor's office to see Tom Crothers(deputy mayor I think). Tom Crothers was little help. He said that something isn't right because Mr. Garvin worked for him before and was a great guy. It was a bunch of blah, blah, blah.
Anyway, the end result was this. The old lease that I had been told would be honored was thrown out and the new lease said that I could use the lights up til 9:30pm, but after that I would have to pay some amount per kilowat hour. I asked why I would use lights before 9:30 in the summer, but no one could answer that. Then, another city supervisor called me and wanted to "work with me" and get this signed. I explained about how my budget was done and how I checked on this months ago and was told it was all good, and how now I was going to get screwed without lights. He tried to tell me how little it was to run the lights. So I asked, "How much per hour then is it to run the lights at the rink". He had no idea and couldn't tell me. He told me that he was going to get his buddy to figure it out and give me a figure. I was like, you want me to agree to pay for lights that you have no idea what they cost. No way. So, my priority is getting the season started, I offered to not use the lights at all. Fine, they won. I finally got the key.
So about a week later, all the people involved and myself get invited to the mayor's office. After being a complete jerk, Mr. Garvin walks in and acts like he's my best friend. Hey Tom, how ya doing? Everything going good at the rink? I can't believe this jerk.
One of the people with me pull me aside and tell me to "keep positive" in the meeting and don't sound like a complainer. So I take the high road in the meeting and when the mayor asked if everything was worked out, I say yes. Like an idiot, I screwed myself. I get told that if there are any problems at all, let this other person know and it will be taken care of. The mayor wants this league there. It's a good thing for the city, blah, blah, blah.
As I'm moving my stuff into the rink later, I notice that while the last 2 years the zamboni garage had enough room for me to put my squeegee tractors inside it too, this time it is backed up against the door so you can barely get inside it yourself, let alone put something in there. So I call my "contact". They assure me that I will be able to use the scoreboard (as I had done in the past) and that they would make room in the garage for our tractors. I thought it was going to go smooth. It didn't.
When I called about getting the scoreboard controller, I was given some grief about how they were concerned about the scoreboard getting too hot in the summer and how it could be getting damaged. So I said, "Tell me what you want me to do and I'll do it. If you don't want me to use it, just say so." I got to use the scoreboard. Next time I went to the rink, the zamboni was gone from the garage and I thought, wow, they did make room.
Fast forward to today. I was up working til 4am. 9am I get a call and message. "We're pushing your stuff outside because the zamboni is coming back today.". That's it. I jump up and drive to the rink where both my tractors are just sitting outside (at the time is was supposed to rain). I start to load them up on my trailer and call my "contact person" again. More, ah, sorry, we'll get that taken care of, let me send someone over to make room, blah, blah, blah.
Summary-I know that if it wasn't for the city's support, the league wouldn't exist. But, in doing this for my 5th year this year, I have lost $5000 in a rink at Ravine Park II and $300 worth of stuff stolen not by strangers, but by people who had keys to the rink building.
With over 300 players and 28 teams in the league, I thought that maybe, just maybe, it would be considered an asset to the city and treated with just a little bit of respect.
If I was told, back in Jan, when I called to ask about this year's lease that there would be changes, I could have tried to make changes to our plans this year. Now, with no lights and limited days, it looks like a summer season is impossible to happen. No because of poor planning, but because the city just decided to change their minds.
Finally, I understand that there is a budget. My issue is that instead of pulling the carpet out from under a not-for-profit operation, why not look at the waste, fraud, and abuse, city workers cost the city on a daily basis? Sleeping on job, stealing city property, throwing away perfectly good city property and then asking for new. The list goes on and on.
I have reached my limit. I will either sell the league in it's entirety, or change it's name and move it somewhere where it is wanted. Thanks Toledo. At least next time buy kiss me first.