In our first “Around the nation in our sport” we head to the Sunshine State. Derek Miller an Allentown, PA native moved to Florida after he spent some time in the military. Derek’s passion for the game started in Allentown playing with the Infernos in the Allentown Street Hockey League where he won Rookie of year in his first year playing. From playing in leagues to joining the tournament circuit with some local friends he found himself in new territory with a dwindling league in the Orlando area. Like a leader he is, Derek stepped up and the league has since been rejuvenated.
Find out more about Orlando Ball Hockey League:
Website: Orlando Ball Hockey League Website
Facebook: Orlando Ball Hockey Facebook Page
Rink Location: Greenwood Lakes Park 660 Green Way Blvd, Lake Mary, FL 32746
Derek took some time to sit and talk with us:
How did you start the Orlando Ball Hockey League?
The OBHL got started initially under a different name, Greater Orlando Dek Hockey Association before I was even in town years ago. Dan Bokuniewicz started the league originally in January 2011. I feel they deserve credit for being the “Grandfathers” of Orlando Ball Hockey as a whole. It wasn’t until the last commissioner, Jimmy Knox, had to step away from running the league, that I was in a position to create one. It was the furthest thing from my mind at the time as I enjoyed playing and never anticipated on starting a league. Once we knew the league needed new leadership last February 2016 I reached out to all captains to see if the support was there if I started the league. Before I invested any money I wanted to make sure everyone was on board. I then slowly started to create a non-profit and also incorporate through the state of Florida. I then bought insurance to protect myself and other leaders of the league. The outpouring of support has been tremendous and to this day a year later it wouldn’t have happened without a group effort. Our numbers as a whole continue to grow. I created a 50% off league dues policy if someone recruits a player to the league. That has helped tremendously and instead of just a few promoting the league I now have given every player on every team a chance to do the same.
How would you describe the feeling of running your own league?
Running my own league has been rewarding as I continue to play the game of hockey. I love this game and fell in love with it at 13 while playing in Allentown, PA where I played with my older brother and his friends. It has helped me reconnect with my late brother and I can see him smiling down so this has been very personal to me. I would also like to add that I am not running it alone as I have a great right hand man in Drew Ziermann who has been a tremendous help with back office operations. We have worked well together to make solid decisions for the best interest of everyone.
What are some lessons you’ve learned thus far and what are some of the rewards you’ve gotten from running the league?
Lessons learned is that you have to take emotion out of it because you have to really look out for the best interest of everyone to maintain the level of integrity to keep it legit. I also learned the more you give the more people will take as it relates to dues. You have to have a firm grip or people will try to slide by without paying. The reward is that we still have the game in Orlando and being a commissioner of a hockey league feels pretty good inside.
How many players currently participate?
We currently have 10 teams in the league in two divisions. We play B league on Wednesday nights and A league Sunday mornings. A league is for more skilled players and B league is open to anyone who is new to the game. We also have an Orlando Master’s team that we sponsor to play in tournaments. We are looking to sponsor in some way an Orlando Rec team for tournament play.
Any noteworthy players in the league?
We do have a few USA Players on the team – Nick Carter and Steve Ersing who have both played in World play. We also have some strong tournament players such as Kyle Bokuniewicz and John “Toasty” Tosado. Toasty was just named MVD of the PA Wizards team that Dave Reaser runs. We also used to have the former leading scorer of the old ECHL team the Orlando Seals, BJ Stephens. He’s had to step away currently due to a new career but he’s looking to return soon. He’s got incredible hands and vision.
How big is the hockey community in the area, do you see it growing with the reshaping of the league?
It’s a rather smaller hockey community than what you would see up north in the colder regions of course. It has slowly been gaining momentum as the overall hockey fan base seems to have been growing. We continue to look into ways and connect into the local universities, ice arenas and professional hockey teams. I see it growing as each team on the B league continues to have deeper benches with the addition of new players. We continue to look for ways to grow the A league which has been struggling a bit as the B league has been striving. As time continues I foresee an increase in both divisions with our concentrated marketing and community efforts as a league.
Your partnership with the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL, how did that come about?
I have been playing with a great player on my A team for a couple of years and he has worked his way up through the Orlando Solar Bears offices. I continued to talk to him about partnerships over time and OBHL being involved some way. I believe as our friendship grew and he had a better understanding of where I was trying to take the league trust was built. I then met with some executives onsite at the Solar Bears corporate office. As I was able to meet a few of the other executives I feel there was more comfort level to try and work together. That is where we are today.
How did you get interested in a youth league?
I am very interested in a youth league as I feel it’s important to continue ball hockey in the area. I think with the right effort it is very possible. I have two girls 8 and 6 and along with players kids we do have enough to play in the Solar Bears tournament they are running in a couple of weeks. We have had a few practices and usually have them Sundays at 11 AM after A league games. There is still more work to do in this area.
What are some the challenges you’ve seen thus far getting the youth program going?
Probably working a day job and also getting numbers up. With the right partnerships and marketing it can happen. We do have some player’s kids that play youth ice hockey so we are slowly getting a couple other kids interested through those channels.
How have the parents been responding to the program?
Most of the parents are already part of the league so they know what the league is about. It has been a great response from them and now I am also getting neighborhood kids to play as I know their parents.
What can people who are reading this article do to help the program?
Probably just to help to bring awareness to the programs we have in Orlando and try to send people our way if they know someone is moving to Central Florida. The league is also sponsoring the Men’s USA team with George Tarantino so maybe a little publicity through that can help as well by having our league info on the ASHI site.
For more information on the Youth Hockey Tournament please call 407-951-8200