Trio of Roller Hockey Players Headed for National Championship
Humble elementary school beginnings have led to a foray into national championship territory for local roller hockey players Caleb Fitch, Henry Spence, and Dylan Mead.
The three boys remember playing as six and seven year olds at Pinehurst Elementary, where one of only two primitive rinks in town was located at the time.
“It was made up of two-by-four boards, and there were weeds growing out of it,” Spence said. “We played with a ball instead of a puck.”
Now in high school, the trio is about to break onto roller hockey’s biggest stage — the State Wars Roller Hockey Championships in St. Louis, Mo., during the first two weeks of August.
The boys might live within a few miles of each other and play the same game, often on the same rink at Rassie Wicker Park in Pinehurst — but they play different positions, and they’ve never competed on the same team.
A rising senior at Pinecrest, Fitch, 17, of Southern Pines, has been involved in hockey for 11 years. He plays both offense and defense positions on at least five different recreational and travel teams, both in Moore County and in the Raleigh area.
Although he spent the majority of his early hockey career on ice, he transitioned to roller four years ago — a change that has certainly paid off.
Since making the switch, Fitch has represented North Carolina each year at the State Wars competition in the 1994 division. In four outings at the tournament, he has been part of two silver medal-winning teams.
“It’s faster paced and less physical, compared to ice hockey,” Fitch said of roller hockey. “It takes more skill, in my opinion.”
The only State Wars rookie of the trio, Spence, of Pinehurst, is a member of the 1996 State Wars team. The 16-year-old rising junior at Pinecrest has played forward on the local Sandhills Predators team for the past two seasons, including a trip to Atlanta for the National Games.
Another four-year State Wars veteran, Mead, 13, will play on the 1999 team. He has won a gold and a silver with his teams in previous tournament appearances.
Although his family had always liked hockey, Mead, of Seven Lakes, began playing it on a whim while already involved in four other sports. After a short stint with a stick and a puck, he had no doubt about which sport he wanted to pursue.
“I felt like hockey had the most to offer,” he said. “I fell in love with the game right away.”
Christian Roble, an eighth-grader at Southern Middle who lives in Aberdeen, is also representing North Carolina as part of a 1999 State Wars squad that competed early on in this year’s tournament. He participated on the winning 1999 team in the 2011 State Wars championship.
‘A Lot Going On’
Mead — who will be a freshman at Pinecrest this fall — participates in both the roller and ice varieties of hockey, primarily on the defense side. The wide spectrum of physical ability and know-how that hockey requires keeps the game challenging and fun, he said.
“It’s not like football, where you just pick up the football and know how to throw it,” Mead said. “The way it’s played, there’s a lot more going on.”
The fast pace of the roller hockey game is the most appealing aspect for Spence.
“It’s always moving,” he noted. “You can change who is on the rink in the middle of the play.”
Fitch agreed with Spence, emphasizing that there are no breaks between plays in hockey as opposed to some other sports. “The game is non-stop. I like how it always pushes you,” he said.
The accomplishments on these players’ records — awards, trophies, tournament wins — are many in number. But the success hasn’t come without sacrifice.
Between the hours spent commuting to different rinks and venues, practicing with multiple different squads and playing tournaments, they’ve often been limited in their freedom to spend time with friends and participate in school activities.
“Being gone every single weekend isn’t always fun,” Fitch said. “If you’re not at practice, you’re at a game. If you’re not at a game, you’re watching hockey. It consumes your life.”
But he has no regrets about putting his hockey career first. “It’s definitely worth it.”
For Mead, the decision to forgo some of his social life for his athletic career has become easy.
“Hockey is more fun for me than hanging out with friends,” he said.
The State Wars tournament will include teams from all 50 states, in addition to teams representing Canada, Spain, and several other foreign countries. Each age group division will play its tournament in four-day blocks.
“It’s one of only a couple of major roller hockey tournaments out there,” Fitch said. “It’s a really big deal.”
Despite having never previously skated on a State Wars rink, Spence already senses that this championship will be unlike any tournament he’s ever competed in. “It’s a higher level of hockey than you get here (in North Carolina),” he said. “I can tell just by practicing with these guys.”
Fitch, Spence, and Mead are about to face off and fight hard against roller hockey’s best — and hopefully help their teams earn some State Wars championship hardware to bring home.
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