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In This Hockey League, Furious Fun is the Goal

Phantoms players watch their team in action at the rink outside Hammond Middle School in Alexandria. Each season the league's teams compete for a championship, and while the winners receive T-shirts, there is also a fiercely desired prize for the best of the runners-up  --  a castoff champagne bucket called the Sheba Cup.
Phantoms players watch their team in action at the rink outside Hammond Middle School in Alexandria. Each season the league's teams compete for a championship, and while the winners receive T-shirts, there is also a fiercely desired prize for the best of the runners-up -- a castoff champagne bucket called the Sheba Cup. "You'd think it was the damn World Series,"says Bill Raue, founder of Alexandria Inline Hockey. (Photos By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

Raue, 67, spent a lifetime doing public relations and advertising for "leftie" nonprofit organizations, such as the Sierra Club and zero-population-growth groups. He dresses in T-shirts and jeans, and his white blond hair, jammed under an ever-present baseball cap, falls to his shoulders. "I'm just an aging '60s hippie," he said in a raspy voice with a broad Midwestern twang. He fought in the Vietnam War -- with a guitar, he said. Although he was drafted, the Army put him in a folk band to entertain the troops. "It was awful," he said. "But at least we weren't being shot at."

The story of the accident that brought him to roller hockey is legend. In the late 1990s, his wife came home from a yard sale with a pair of in-line skatesthat she had bought for a dollar. A former ice hockey goalie from his college days in Wisconsin, Raue found ad hoc street hockey games on the just-poured concrete of parking lots and malls under construction on Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria's West End.

He got hooked.

He bought Major League Roller Hockey, a U.S. and European pro league. He set up temporary rinks at recreation centers. And, he said, after getting kicked off every playground in Alexandria, he worked out a deal with the city and the schools. Francis Hammond Middle School on Seminary Road had an unused parking lot, which was used to teach driver's ed back when Hammond was a high school. The school gave Raue permission to build the rink -- he paid about $100,000 to do so -- and he pays rent for the land.The rink is affectionately known as Raue's Pond.

When not used for league games from 7 to 11 p.m. every weeknight and on Sundays, the tree-lined rink is open to the public. T.C. Williams lacrosse players practice there. Kids come to roller-skate. It's a perfect setup, Raue said -- especially since the place is secluded.

"We've never had a complaint by neighbors," he said. "I don't know why. We have perfectly sane adults screaming 'F you!' and 'If you slash me again, I'm gonna smash your face.' "

In theory, Alexandria Inline Hockey is a noncontact sport.

Raue's wife, who is British, rarely comes out to watch what she calls the "unmitigated violence" on the rink. But, Raue said, she understands what has become his obsession. "Look, I'd spent 25 years holding the hands of people wringing their hands and worrying about the state of the world," he said. "This is fun."

Sean King, a former captain of the White House All Stars who has since moved to New York, remembered spending weekends shoveling snow off the rink with Raue and hearing of him out there at all hours of the night patching cracks in the concrete. "When I first saw Bill Raue, I thought of Doc in the 'Back to the Future' movies," King said. "He's sort of a mad genius."

And Raue makes no secret of his political leanings. "I was an appointee in the Bush administration," King said. "He was always saying, "Sean, you gotta come out and play. That is, if you're not going to jail with the rest of your friends.' "

But no one, neither King nor any of the other rollerheads, bats an eye at Raue's dedication. "We're all crazed," King said.

"With roller hockey, you're doing two or three things at once," King explained. "You're trying to control this little thing bouncing around and keeping someone else away from you trying to do the same thing. Then there's the thrill and rush of actually scoring a goal. It's like a hot flash goes through your entire body. No matter how many times you've scored, no matter how meaningless the game, it's a great feeling. To see the dejection on the goalie's face: You are wholly responsible for someone else's misery. It's very uplifting."

Plus, it's a great workout. As Edwin Lee, the Fleet-Footed Orthodontist sees it, "It's not a one-ligament sport."

On a recent Tuesday night in the Rec League, architect Kristian Fonss of Alexandria unbuckled his sweat-soaked goalie leg protectors. His team, the Crimson Dogs, had just lost to The Inmates, who won 4-3, coming from behind. But Fonss felt secure in his position. Roller hockey goalies are hard to come by. Most people want a piece of the action in the center of the rink.

"My first time as goalie, we lost 18-3," he said. "I, uh, improved from there."

His friend and fellow architect Steve Kulinski, who plays three nights a week, has his own formula for making sure he can feed his roller hockey obsession.

"I'm not a really good player. I don't have a lot of natural talent," Kulinski said. "But I learned that if you manage the team, they'll never kick you off."

New players are welcome on Friday nights for pickup games. Adults interested in joining a team or in getting more information may contact Bill Raue of the Alexandria Inline Hockey Association at 703-535-5996, Ext 1, or visithttp://www.sportability.com/alexandria.


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