Cobbs Creek: After Delay, Sims Rink Reopens With Skaters Eager to Hit the Ice

Sebastian Bttacavoli doesn’t like to wait. 

As an 11-year-old living with autism, waiting doesn’t come easily in everyday life. But after finding a niche playing goalie for the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation’s 12 and under team, Sebastian didn’t want to wait for a single second to get back on the ice this season and play the sport he’s loved since he was five.

So, it was deeply disheartening when he found out the seasonal opening of the Laura Sims Skate House, which houses Snider’s programs at 63rd and Walnut street, would be delayed for nearly two months in order to finish backlogged repairs by the City, shortening his hockey season.

Instead of opening for the season in September as planned, the rink’s repairs, undertaken by contractors hired by the City, kept the ice rink and hockey league closed until mid-November. 

Charlene Bttacavoli, Sebastian’s mother, said she can’t afford to put him in another league. So, he just had to wait.

“He didn’t know what to do,” Bttacavoli said. “When he first got on the ice, he just loved hitting the boards, skating around, falling and getting back up. He was lost without it.”

The Laura Sims Skate House, which is run by the City, gives residents in West Philadelphia, like Sebastian, a free place to skate year-round and an affordable place to take lessons and rent skates.

It also houses a chapter of the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, which offers hockey leagues and full equipment for no charge to residents around the West Philadelphia rink. Snider operates in public rinks all over the city, and its mission includes breaking down the cost barrier that often stops low-income families from getting involved in the sport.

For comparison, the Blazers Youth Hockey Team, a Philadelphia youth hockey club that practices at the Flyers Skate Zone, costs a minimum of $990 to register for the “mites” division, according to its website. Registration for its teenage travel leagues costs $2,025.

That doesn’t include the costs of pads and other equipment that local clubs typically do not provide. A hockey equipment and apparel website New To Hockey estimates new players should spend between $500 and $1,000 on equipment.

With all of these costs covered by the foundation, Snider Hockey is the only opportunity for many low-income students in West Philadelphia to play the sport. When rink repairs delayed the season, frustration was natural.

“For some of the children, they were getting anxious,” said Khrystal Lindsay, a Cobbs Creek resident whose two grandchildren play in the program. “It still served as a great place to get homework done, but they couldn’t wait to get on the ice.”

Kevin Burke, assistant director of hockey programming for Snider Hockey at the Laura Sims Skate House, said the repairs ended up being more serious for the City than expected and turned into a bigger job.

Broken dehumidifiers, which that keep the ice and the building cold year-round, needed repairs badly. When those machines broke down, excess moisture created a flurry of issues over the summer.

“It was raining from the ceiling essentially,” Burke said. “With the dripping, the electrical stuff in the building was affected and then the lights weren’t working so it was kind of a snowball effect.”

Attempts to reach Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation Department for comment on why the repairs were delayed were unsuccessful. A representative at the rink said she was unauthorized to give comment. The Parks and Recreation Department provided a phone number to the office at Laura Sims that was not answered multiple times.

Employees and parents at the Laura Sims Skate House said the delay was disappointing, but not surprising, for that location. Many hold the opinion the rink is not given the same attention as other public facilities in Philadelphia.

Walt Mulholland of the Tarken Ice Rink in Northeast Philadelphia explained that Snider Youth Hockey Foundation chapters in more affluent neighborhoods of the city don’t face the same budgeting constraints that plague the Laura Sims Skate House.

“From the Snider perspective, all funding is equal,” Mulholland said. “From the City perspective, we have a lot more outside on-ice programming here, so we have more funding at our disposal.”

Nevertheless, staff members at the Laura Sims Skate House consistently promoted a positive attitude during the rink’s closure. Though they couldn’t get kids on the ice, Snider Hockey employs counselors to help students with homework and life skills.

Students were still welcomed into the building during the rink’s closure for homework help and tutoring. They also took part in competitive rounds of Uno and chess.

“It was really good to have this as a place to help with homework,” Lindsay said. “Especially if you don’t have that help at home, you knew you had it here.”

Still, the passion at Snider Hockey is hockey. When repairs were done and the rink was open, students were eager to hit the ice, smiling as they tugged on skates and began to circle the rink.

At the first practice back, many students said their only focus was hitting the ice and making up for lost time.

“It’s one of those things we talk to kids of all ages about: controlling the controllables,” Burke said. “We were at the mercy of the City of Philadelphia. But now, everyone — from players, coaches, and parents — are definitely all happy to be back.”

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