Monday, March 05, 2001

Underwater hockey league


Players from GE and Roger Bacon make a splash

By Carrie T. Henderson
Enquirer contributor

        “Underwater what?” That is the usual response Stephanie Pabst receives when she talks about the underwater hockey league she coaches at General Electric in Evendale.

        In fact, when a box labeled Underwater Hockey Pucks passed through The Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, the package was deemed suspicious. Custom officers, like many others, had never heard of this unique water sport.

LEARN MORE
  • Online: www.reedconsulting.com or www.sfgate.com.
  • Call: Dr. Paul Wittekind, (513) 641-1300.
  • Library: Parks and Recreation magazine. November 1998; “A Long Tie Breaker in This Game Can Really End in Sudden Death,” The Wall Street Journal (June, 1998 by Joshua Kwan, Section B:1); “The Stanley Glub?” ESPN The Magazine, July 16, 1998, by Rick Rickman.
        Underwater hockey began in Great Britain in the early 1950s. Scuba divers developed the game to achieve maximum underwater fitness during their off season. At the time, the sport was referred to as Octopush. Players, armed with sticks, (similar to shuffleboard sticks) would push a lead puck across the pool bottom into opposing goals. Unlike scuba diving, players did not rely on supplemental oxygen. They were equipped with a mask, a snorkel and fins.

        While the name of the sport has changed, the elements of the game have remained the same. This game shares the same fast pace as ice hockey, without the violence.

        In regulation play, the game consists of two six-player teams. The players are equipped with protective headgear, masks, snorkels, fins, safety gloves and a flat 1 foot-long stick. Players then push a brightly colored, 3-pound, metal core puck along the length of the bottom of the pool and try to get it into opposing 3-meter goals.

        Three referees are present throughout the game — one on deck and two in the water. The game is played for two 15-minute halves with a three-minute halftime. Like basketball, underwater hockey is a non-contact sport with incidental fouls. Players are alerted of a foul by a metal pipe being clanged in the water. Players come up for air about every 30 seconds.

        GE incorporated this unique sport into its fitness program last October. “I saw a man scraping a stick along the bottom of the pool,” recalls Ms. Pabst of Springdale. “I confronted him. I wanted to make sure he wasn't harming the pool.”

        That underwater man with the mysterious stick was GE employee Wayne Specht of Springfield Township. Mr. Specht has been enjoying the game for more than a year. “The water is very relaxing to me,” he says. “It helps clear my mind.” At Roger Bacon

        A major influence of the GE underwater hockey league has been Dr. Paul Wittekind, 34, North College Hill, a history teacher at Roger Bacon High School. Dr. Wittekind, called “Doc” by his students, lends not only equipment, but also his expertise to the GE Fitness Club. Dr. Wittekind brought the aquatic program to Roger Bacon four years ago after playing defensive back for Ohio State University.

        “Whenever I tell people that I played defensive back in college, they look at my small frame with speculation,” Mr. Wittekind says. “They always think of football — not underwater hockey.”

        Roger Bacon is the only high school in the nation to participate in underwater hockey. This makes scheduling games against competing teams difficult. In June, the team will travel to San Jose for the U.S. National Championships. The 2002 World Championships will be in Calgary.

        This co-ed, cardiovascular sport helps to increase lung capacity. It is played in more than 20 countries and six continents. Colleges, including OSU, Michigan and Virginia Tech, have incorporated it into their aquatic programs.

        Thes sport has also been recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee. Spectators are able to enjoy the sport by the use of underwater video cameras.

       



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