IHAAZ tournament series creates family-like atmosphere
Back in the mid-1990s, the sport of inline hockey enjoyed a significant rise in popularity as four rinks sprung up in Arizona and the idea of hosting tournaments came about as well.
But those tournaments tended to be less than successful because many were corporate-run and often the rinks struggled to make it financially viable for them and their youth hockey clubs.
“The chemistry wasn’t there to make the tournaments work,” said Inline Hockey Association of Arizona (IHAAZ) tournament director Dean Koressel. “There was no direction to it.”
When the IHAAZ was born in 1999, direction was established when it came to running tournaments.
“Rec players who had attained a higher level of skill wanted the opportunity to play in local tournaments,” Koressel said. “We got together and created our own tournament series and every rink and program in Arizona bought into it and became a part of it. One program would either be affiliated with the arena or would rent the facility to host the tournament and the other teams that came in would pay the host program. The tournament series was a win-win for the players and for the rinks.”
Part of the success is linked to the fact that the IHAAZ put someone in charge of making sure the tournaments ran smoothly for everyone involved.
The tournament director is responsible for running each tournament. The host program at the arena is still responsible for collecting fees, clean-up and getting referees and scorekeepers and the tournament, while the director takes care of things such as of making sure everyone did their jobs, keep track of scores and stats and the awards.
The grass-roots tournament series started up by the IHAAZ still thrives today and Koressel said the reason for that is the excitement generated by the tournaments.
“It gives players an opportunity to play other local teams and the money raised from those tournaments helps with revenue for the rink and for the host program there,” Koressel said. “It’s like a high school or college atmosphere. Teams are fighting for pride.”
The tournament series used to consist of six tournaments per year. There were four tournaments in each of the last four years and the number is back up to five this year.
“I think within a couple of years, we’ll be back up to having six again,” Koressel said. “We’re seeing more kids getting involved and I think part of that is because former players from when we started out have their own kids now and are getting them involved in it because they remember how much fun it was to play the sport.”
The growth of the sport is also aided by the fact that there is an incentive to get involved in the tournament series.
“The revenue that can be generated from the tournament can significantly benefit both the arena and the youth program and it’s just a great way to have fun,” Koressel said. “Those are the reasons we’ve been able to survive and thrive.”
The tournament atmosphere is bolstered by the fact that the families can enjoy meals together and the award ceremonies are set up to make the players feel that their successes are being recognized and acknowledged.
“We enjoy a ‘picnic dinner’ kind of atmosphere together and there is a lot of energy going on at the games,” Koressel said. “There is just a different feel to the level of excitement and we’ve created a family atmosphere. We make a big deal out of the tournaments and the awards. The kids love it. It’s another reason why we’ve been able to succeed.”
Maintaining the identity the league was formed on has also been important to the success.
“We’ve kept perspective and haven’t gotten caught up in the latest thing,” Koressel said. “We just keep doing what we’ve done all along because it works. We haven’t lost our perspective on the families and teams that participate.”
— Brian Lester