To modern-day youngsters, an ordinary street, with its heavy traffic and solid line of cars parked at both curbsides, seems like an unlikely place to try to play roller hockey. But there was an era when Queens youngsters had a fine hockey rink right outside their front doors. My generation was probably the last to be able to use 46th Street near 39th Avenue for stickball, punchball, touch football, and my favorite, roller hockey. The final years were around 1952-53, after which the rising volume of moving and parked autos made street play impossible.
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A sewer manhole cover, situated midway between either curbstone, served as home plate, goal line, or goal, depending on the game. To draw the outline of a two-dimensional hockey goal on the pavement, a player’s stick was laid flat in front of a manhole cover, and chalk lines were carefully inscribed. The "rink" stretched from one manhole cover to the next. A roll of friction tape served as a puck. Modern innovations, such as curved sticks, had not been invented. The use of helmets lay far in the future. A strap held the instep. The best skates were made by a company called Chicago. Union Hardware was another brand.
Memorable were the "pick-up" games played on my block. All the players had to adhere to a self-imposed high level of sportsmanship, meaning that violence and mayhem were strictly forbidden. Not every youngster could keep to these standards. A few had to be turned away. The ones who played were named Georgie Krauss, Billy Gullo, Bobby Stonehill, Michael Karp, Dennis Murray and Gene Turitz. David Horowitz visited once from 44th Street.
Unfortunately, our high level of play was never genuinely appreciated on the block. There were no admiring spectators. Worse still, householders heckled us to keep our shouts down. The young girls of 46th Street would have made an excellent cheerleading section, but they showed no interest whatever. In retrospect, even a mere glance of admiration from Carol Zuckerman, Valerie Lewis or Roanna Judelson would have brought a new dimension to our game.
The sequel to this story came on January 19, 1991. My 13-year-old son, lately learning the game from his father, had urged me out to the recently renovated playground at 31st Street and Hoyt Street North. I had with me my new skates and my old hockey stick, now a 40-year old family heirloom. It soon developed that the group of 12 to 13 year olds with whom my son was playing became short a man, and my son would not take no for an answer. "Dad, you've been waiting for this since 1952," he implored. "Everything is here... standup goals, no cars, no cracks in the pavement. You even have your beloved hockey stick! What more do you want...Roanna Judelson?"
So I gave in, muttering about clogged arteries and auricles and ventricles. Steven and I were on the same team. He was thrilled. I was soon utterly winded, gasping for breath, repeatedly pleading for time-out. With our side winning by a score of 3-1, fate came to my rescue. Underneath the friction tape wrapped around the blade of my stick, forty years of wood rot had been at work. The stick cracked in two and I had to drop out of the game.
Nostalgia aside, today's generation of young people have the opportunity to enjoy a roller hockey game that is both safer and more exciting. Improvements in skate technology and the use of safety equipment have made it a better game. The efforts of organized teams are also helping to perpetuate the game. The next major innovation will be allowing girls to play. With that in mind I am helping my seven-year-old daughter to learn to rollerskate
Gene Turitz Eric Freed
Matthew Rifkin, Bobby Stonehill, Michael Karp,
Lee Stonehill, Peter Greenblatt, Daniel Levy
Lee (Lenox) Stonehill grew up in Sunnyside Gardens, attending PS 150, JHS 125 and William Cullen Bryant High School (June 1955). He retired in 2009 from the NY City Human Resources Administration. His avocation is local history. He is married and the father of three adult children. He currently lives in Astoria, Queens.
by Lee Stonehill