Inline on Roll in Southeast
Scholastic Leagues Likely to Power Future Growth
By Jim Davis
Breylon Jones, a 13-year-old defenseman with the
Greenville Storm, chases down
an errant shot in the corner, whirls and
looks up. In front of him is an open lane to the opposition’s net.
Without hesitation, he takes off, transitioning to offense in an
instant, pushing the puck ahead of him.
It’s a decision the youngster makes hundreds of times in the course of
an inline roller hockey season. That wasn’t the case two years ago
when he played defense for a peewee travel ice hockey team. Skating on
ice, he was much less likely to abandon his defensive zone
responsibilities and go on the attack, even when open ice beckoned.
Breylon delights in the freewheeling, attacking style of hockey played
on wheels. He’s not alone. Some 8,000 youngsters and adults are
playing inline roller hockey in the South, according to USA Hockey
InLine, the sanctioning body for most of the leagues and teams across
the nation. That’s about one-third of all USA Hockey Inline players. (CenterIce
Magazine defines the South as those states below the Mason-Dixon Line
and east of the Mississippi River plus Arkansas and Washington D.C.)
Not all 8,000 players play inline for the relative freedom it
provides. Many like the speed and constant flow of hockey on wheels,
or the less structured games and practices, or the chance to better
develop their skating and puck handling skills that comes with more
playing time. Still others are steered into the sport by parents
unwilling, or unable, to tackle the more expensive ice hockey game.
2Hot4Ice is the leading youth inline tournament
series in the South.
Regardless of the reason, inline hockey in the South has blossomed
during the first half of this decade, especially in larger markets
such as Florida, the Atlanta area and central North Carolina.
According to USA Hockey InLine, Florida, with 2,800 registered inline
players, is second only to California (5,400). Metro Atlanta is
believed to have as many in-liners as it does ice hockey players.
Multiple high-quality facilities, including The Cooler in Alpharetta
and SGAA Dual Decks in Snellville, have helped the Atlanta area become
the inline hockey capital of the South. Recreational leagues are
popular in the Peach City, with youngsters also playing outdoors, on
wood surfaces, at the YMCA and in church gyms.
2Hot4Ice, one of several organizations that conduct high-energy
in the eastern U.S., remains wildly popular in the South,
drawing 112 teams to its 2005 National Games season-ending
championships in Columbia, S.C.
But the icing on the cake is the Atlanta area’s scholastic inline
leagues. The number of teams in the 11-year-old Georgia High School
Roller Hockey League’s four skill-based divisions has tripled, to 56,
in the last five years. Many of those teams draw their players from
AARHO, the Atlanta Area Roller Hockey Organization, which operates
four leagues for 35 middle-school teams.
In Hotlanta, as the city markets itself, inline doesn’t begin and end
with the kids. The University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia
State University all have at least one club team completing in the
National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association’s Atlantic division, and
there are recreation leagues for adults scattered throughout the metro
Rich Call, the GHRA’s referee in chief, says the expansion of inline
hockey in Atlanta has been driven by the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers and
the tens of thousands of transplants employed by the many
international companies that have their headquarters in Georgia’s
“The Thrashers hit the streets and went to the rinks in the area,
whether ice or inline or church gyms. That created interest in
hockey,” say Call, who works inline events throughout the South in
addition to his GHRA responsibilities. “Also, we’re a region of
transplants. A lot of us are Northerners who don’t want to give up the
sport we love. We want to play, whether it’s on ice or concrete.
“I’ve got to believe if the Thrashers make the playoffs, that will
give hockey here another shot in the arm.”
The Greenville Storm
after winning the 12U A division title at the 2Hot4Ice 2005 National
Games last June in Columbia,
Bottom row, from left: Brennan Adams and Mark Adams. Middle row:
Patrick Heaps, Robby Flair, Tyler Scherz, Breylon Jones, Joel Szabo
and Eli Spear. Back row: coach John Heaps, Matt Hogue, Lane Smith,
coach Greg Szabo and coach Paul Bailey.
Photo courtesy: 2Hot4Ice
Greg Szabo, one of Breylon Jones’s coaches with the Greenville Storm,
says the inline game in his South Carolina city has been similarly
impacted. The Greenville Grrrowl of the East Coast Hockey League is
involved in growing hockey at the grassroots level, including inline,
and employees who have transferred to the BMW and Michellin North
America plants in town have become involved in the sport.
“The NHL has been a huge factor [in inline growth in the South] in
their cities,” says 2Hot4Ice founder Clay Ladouceur. “Everybody is
inspired by the NHL’s backing.”
2Hot4Ice, which conducts more than 20 weekend youth tournaments a
season – almost all of them in the South -- has partnered with both
the NHL Carolina Hurricanes and one of the four ECHL teams in the
“2Hot4Ice does a program with the Columbia (South Carolina) Inferno.
The kids playing in our events in that city get a free ticket to an
Inferno game. And they (Inferno players) come out to our events and
meet the kids and sign autographs. They’re hometown heroes. That’s
Still, it’s the game of inline hockey itself plus tournament series
like 2Hot4Ice, Coastal Cup, the East Coast Hockey Organization (ECHO)
and NARCh, and the school leagues that continue to draw youngsters and
teen-agers to the sport, and in some cases away from ice hockey.
Inline leaders say the freedom players enjoy in the wheeled version of
the sport remains a major lure. “When you compare ice and roller, the
sport has less regimen,” says Ladouceur. “In roller hockey, there’s a
light, fun atmosphere. The players have the puck on their stick more
and they have a chance to develop confidence without the bodychecking
in ice (in the upper youth age groups).”
Breylon Jones agrees. “You have a lot of space and can push the puck
up, but still get back quick,” says the soft-spoken son of parents born
and raised in the South but unfamiliar with hockey until Breylon began
playing. “In ice there’s offsides, but not in roller. You can bring
the puck back, collect yourself and take it back in [to the offensive
“And in ice when you get the puck, you have to be ready to give it up.
I think sometimes you’re afraid of getting hit. In inline, you keep
Having played ice hockey for six years, Breylon had grown tired of the
travel involved as a member of the Greenville Jr. Grrrowl. It seemed
that every weekend he was in a car motoring to some distant city for
games. As an inline player he still plays on weekends but most of the
time it’s at the Greenville Pavillion. “I have more free time to be
with my friends,” he says.
The amount of travel associated with ice hockey was a factor in the
Szabo family’s decision to permit their two sons, 17 and 15 years old,
to play inline rather than ice. In ice, more often than not, the boys’
travel teams would play on the same weekends in different cities,
forcing the family to split up. “In 2Hot4Ice tournaments, all the
teams (of a club such as the Greenville Storm) play at the same venue
on the same weekend, and the entire family can make the trip,” says
2Hot4Ice will host 22 events in 18 cities in 2005-06. Ladouceur takes
great pains to ensure that teams are placed in divisions where they
will be the most competitive and to schedule games to minimize the
families’ time away from home.
Ladouceur says that with the proliferation of school leagues,
especially in Atlanta, it’s become imperative that the tournament
series work closely with them to minimize scheduling conflicts so more
youngsters can participate in both. “In Cumming (Ga.), there were 52
scholastic games that weekend (March 10-12) in Atlanta and another 54
2Hot4Ice games. Without working with the GHRA, we couldn’t have done
it,” he says.
The GHRA expects its growth to remain in the 5-10 percent range in the
foreseeable future, as more communities in the Atlanta area organize
middle-school leagues that eventually will feed players to the high
school clubs. Still, Ronnie Williams, a member of the GHRA board, says
he doesn’t see inline hockey ever becoming part of the athletic
programs of Georgia high schools.
That’s not the case in North Carolina, where Central Carolina Hockey,
the inline hockey organization in Raleigh, and the Carolina Hurricanes
have provided seed money to the recently announced Central Carolina
Hockey League to organize middle school and high school inline
programs next fall. The CCHL’s vision calls for elevating inline to
varsity status at area high schools in five years. A pilot league this
spring attracted 10 middle school-age teams without any advertising by
Mark Howard, CCHL director, says the skill level of the new high
school league will fall somewhere between recreational and travel.
Both the middle school kids and high schoolers will play two seasons a
year, in the fall and spring, which should eliminate conflicts with
local ice hockey programs and other scholastic sports. One of the
seasons will feature 3-on-3 games with seven-minute running time
periods. Games will be played on weekday evenings so the players can
still play travel hockey if they desire.
“Inline is huge down here, one of the fastest-growing sports in the
area,” says Howard, who grew up playing ice hockey in upstate New
York. “We have people, including the counties, looking at building
Where there are good facilities, the inliners are sure to follow. Says
Ladouceur, “The facilities in Gulfport (Miss.) and Lafayette (La.) are
state-of-the-art. Atlanta has three or four good ones. Raleigh has
two. All of those areas are hotbeds of inline hockey."