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Roger Bacon students play unique water sport

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

By David Eck

ST. MARGARET MARY DEANERY — Like most schools, Roger Bacon High School fields teams in such popular sports as football and basketball, but a group of students also play a somewhat unique sport: underwater hockey.

About 20-25 students each year participate in the club sport. The team practices year-round and typically enters three tournaments a year. Dating to 1997, the Roger Bacon team is one of the oldest in the country.

underwater hockey
Roger Bacon High School sophomore Alex Mathis, left, and 2009 graduate Tony Rademacher participate in a scrimmage during an underwater hockey team practice in 2009. (Courtesy photo)

With six players on a team, the game is played on the bottom of a pool using plastic or wooden sticks about a foot in length. Players wearing a glove, fins, mask and snorkel swim to the bottom of the pool, receive the puck, move and pass or shoot it before returning to the surface. Each teams passes the puck around, attempting to shoot it into a goal defended by an opposing team. The game consists of two 15-minute halves with a 5-minute halftime.

“It’s a good way to develop lung capacity,” said Paul Wittekind, Roger Bacon head coach. “It is a good way to just stay fit, and it’s a fun way to stay fit. It’s a little bit unusual. The kids enjoy it.”

The sport is open to students in all grade levels. Teams are co-ed.

The players participated in the second annual Atlantic Coast Championships tournament April 11-12, forming varsity, junior varsity and rookie teams. A team of Roger Bacon alumni also participated in the 16-team tournament.

The varsity team finished 12th in the tournament’s A division, going 0-3 on the second day. The team’s overall record was 4-3 for the weekend. The junior varsity finished third in the B division and the rookie team placed fourth.

Because it’s difficult to form a league, Roger Bacon players travel to the tournaments to play mostly adult and college teams.  The April ACC championships included university teams from George Mason, George Washington, Michigan State, Illinois, Georga Tech and East Carolina. There were also adult teams from the United States and Canada.

The Bacon teams have seen success on the national stage, winning championships in 2001 and 2007. The Roger Bacon players will next compete in June at the 2010 USA National Hockey Championships at the University of Florida.

Wittekind, chair of the school’s social studies department, played underwater hockey when he was a student at Ohio State University. He brought the sport to Roger Bacon.

“I had my equipment, and I had game film, and the kids were interested,” he said. “We got permission from our principal at the time.”

Students say they enjoy they camaraderie the sport fosters.

“You become really close with the people you play with. You’re helping the young players, you’re helping the older players,” said senior defensive back Helen Camppannelli. “A lot of my leadership has come from the team.”

Camppannelli first became involved with the team while she was still in junior high. One of the girls she shadowed during an eighth-grade visit to Roger Bacon was on the team and Camppannelli started with the sport because of her.

That experience is typical.

“The best ambassadors I have are the kids,” Wittekind said. “They tell their friends. The kids are the ones that are selling it.”

The team will hold an underwater hockey camp June 14-18 for students in grades 6-8. For more information, contact Wittekind at 513-641-1300.

David Eck can be reached at [email protected].

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