Way More Game
Water City Roller Hockey brings a roster of new sports to its Marina venue.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
For the sleepless, disillusioned droves of would-be entrepreneurs who fear that the American Dream has morphed into some sort of bleak Kafkaesque corporate nightmare, affirmation can be found holding a hockey stick on an abandoned military base.
Mark Tanous, proprietor of Water City Roller Hockey and art minded hockey czar of the Monterey Peninsula, isn’t letting rough times force him to give up the dream that led him here in 1994. He’s merely adjusting it to include more players.
Sensing a clear niche – and in flight from the spate of floods, earthquakes, riots, and forest fires that tormented Southern California – Mark Tanous, his wife (former Newhart actress Jennifer Holmes), and their kids came to Monterey in the mid-’90s with the express purpose of starting a hockey business capable of providing a fun time to anyone interested. The beginnings were inauspicious.
“There was no hockey here. When we started, it was a family affair, with my mom and dad cooking hot-dogs, my sister doing sign-ups, our kids skating, and Jennifer and I doing everything else,” Tanous says from behind his organically organized desk. “We would show up with a huge barrel of skates, and helmets, and sticks, and the kids would go for it.”
When his sport found a foothold with enough athletes, the Tanouses set their sites on securing a proper rink, which, with the help of Don Garl, former Marina Recreation Director, was quickly identified out at the still-in-transition Fort Ord. The old but well-preserved basketball gym was hardly used.
“When we first came here, it was being used to store free weights and bins of old jock straps,” Tanous says
The folding of a professional team in Anaheim helped Water City Roller Hockey blossom into one of the top roller hockey venues in the state – Tanous purchased the team’s brand new plastic Sports Court playing surface and installed it in his rink, drastically improving play and enthusiasm. “I kid you not,” he says. “We have the best playing surface anywhere!”
Successful youth leagues sprung up, culminating in two different state championships and a Junior Olympics Championship for the 18 and under traveling team. Mark and Jennifer’s dream had come to life. “We were building the program focusing on instruction – on skating. We never felt that we were just making good hockey players, we were making good kids.”
The adult hockey leagues proved more of a test to Tanous’ funster mentality. “The men’s league got a little too aggressive,” he says. “I was really frustrated by the way people were fighting. I called an all league meeting.” Pointing to the parking lot, Tanous asked if anyone saw any San Jose Sharks scouts outside. “I said, ‘Nobody is going to the NHL here! This league is for recreational activity.’ ”
Over time, the local professional league mirrored a dip in nationwide participation in the already fringe sport; sharper declines followed in the past two years. Tanous sadly reels off a litany. “No more Pro Roller on TV… The sport got to be too expensive – top of the line skates went from $150 to over $500; many, many rinks closed down because of the costs of keeping up a facility.”
The original dream was forced to yield to growth and sustainability or face a sentimental devolution towards irrelevancy – “it was time to diversify,” he says.
“I was kind of a hockey snob. ‘All that we do here is roller hockey!’ I would say. But, [fortunately] I saw it coming,” he adds. Now, thanks to conduits like Juan Pablo Aviles, who organized a new soccer program, Water City “has an indoor soccer league that looks like it’s going to be very successful. We have indoor lacrosse leagues. We’re working with the city of Marina on a basketball night and senior programs. We are reinventing ourselves as Water City Sports.”
Marina Recreation Director Terry Siegrist supports the broader programs they’re building. “Sustainability is clearly of issue at this time,” he says. “Diversity in recreation is critical in this economic climate. Mark has worked very hard for 15 years to bring a quality recreation program in roller hockey to this area, and now he’s doing his part to look at what [else] the facility could provide.”
Not that Tanous plans on leaving his original operating philosophy. “I like seeing people have fun,” he says. “Water City is a lot of fun.”
WATER CITY SPORTSHOSTS a variety of sports, including youth and adult roller hockey, floor hockey, indoor soccer, and indoor lacrosse leagues at the Water City Sports Rink, 2800 2nd Avenue, Marina. 384-0144, www.watercityrollerhockey.com.