Arizona Rubber

Arizona’s and New Mexico’s Authoritative Voice of Hockey

Yuma Blaze association proving inline hockey a sustainable youth sport in desert


As the Yuma Youth Hockey League is the longest standing youth recreation league for inline hockey in the state, the organization has been providing opportunities for local youths to develop their talents and grow as hockey players and citizens in their local community.

The Yuma Blaze inline teams regularly have stellar showings at IHAAZ events and recently hosted the first tournament of the 2022 season last month at Kennedy Memorial Park.

yuma_blaze_white“The YYHL has supported the growth of inline hockey in our state and the Yuma Blaze travel teams for decades,” said Yuma Youth Hockey League and Yuma Blaze president John Boelts. “Because of the length of time and the continuous efforts of many volunteers who have supported both our recreation league and our travel programs, Yuma has left a lasting mark on Arizona hockey.

“Many former players from the Yuma Blaze have continued to play inline and ice hockey into adulthood and continue to do so today. So much so, that we recently restarted an adult hockey program in Yuma for the first time in over a decade and have over 40 players participating at present. The YYHL and the Yuma Blaze continue cultivating and developing inline hockey across the state of Arizona by supporting the business side of IHAAZ for the current season, and plan to do so going forward.”

Boelts noted that the organization has a “one for all, all for one” mindset that goes a long way to benefit many individuals.

“The most unique thing about the YYHL and the Yuma Blaze organization has been the large number of selfless volunteers that contributed to the growth and sustained development opportunities for generations of hockey fans and players,” said Boelts. “Also, a common thread for all players who participate in the program is that they also give back to our club and community.

yuma_midnight_oasis“Many players have had the opportunity of participating at the national and international level of hockey, but participation in sports competition at all levels is not all that our players strive to do. All players have the opportunity and are expected to work in supporting both the recreation league and our travel programs. All players take those opportunities seriously and volunteer within our community on behalf of our clubs. Most of our players go on to serve as referees and coaches for our leagues on into adulthood, for the benefit of younger players.”

Some examples of that tradition are former Blaze players such as Izzy Clark, who plays for Team USA and has volunteered for over a decade teaching youth hockey players in Arizona. Dallas Preston, who coaches several YYHL and Yuma Blaze teams, has served for the last few years on the YYHL Board of Directors. Ryan Weick, Jack Allen, Seth Schlamann and Easton Benedict all played hockey at many different levels throughout their youth and into junior and college hockey, are now leading efforts in reviving adult hockey in Yuma.

Even in the face of the pandemic, the Yuma organization has seen marked growth in recent years.

“We are enjoying a renaissance the last two years, due to the support and effort of many volunteers,” explained Boelts. “We have seen a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of players participating in our youth recreation leagues and in our travel club teams.”

Overall, Boelts said the secret to sustaining the organization has been making it happen with like-minded people all sharing the same goal.

“I would say the greatest strength to our organization has been the wonderful community that we live in and the type of outstanding volunteers who have chosen to give to our organization for not just a season or two but sometimes for decades at a time,” Boelts said. “One of those great volunteers that I can point to as an example of this would be Jeff Johnson, former president of our league and a longtime parent and coach of several Yuma Blaze players and countless teams. Long after Jeff’s children became adults and were no longer participating in the program, he continued to spearhead the learn-to-skate summer program to get youth excited about playing inline hockey and remained on our volunteer Board of Directors helping run the day-to-day operations of our league.”

Boelts also talked about the future of the Blaze and how to keep the organization growing and improving, on and off the floor.

yuma3“The City of Yuma Parks and Recreation Department has long supported the development of our recreation and travel programs with facilities and our Yuma community and parents have supported our Board of Directors’ efforts to make hockey a permanent sport in our community,” said Boelts. “That tradition continues as we look forward to some major financial commitments to make improvements to the condition of our existing rink with new boards this coming season and the potential of building a couple of more rinks in the coming years. We also have been blessed with a new generation of parents and players who are in the 8U, 10U and 12U age divisions who are looking to grow our sport here in Yuma.”

And while inline hockey maybe doesn’t get the press and attention of other sports in Arizona, that doesn’t mean the sport isn’t just as important in the grand scheme of things.

“Inline hockey is a sport that offers a lower cost of participation to players versus ice hockey, and has no shortage of players at the statewide, national and international level of competition,” Boelts said. “There are hundreds of different opportunities at the collegiate and adult level participation spreading across the country and internationally. The future of the sport is bright both here in Yuma and around the world. The leadership with IHAAZ and clubs like the Yuma Blaze will remain steadfast in our efforts to grow and sustain the sport for decades into the future.

“We appreciate the opportunity to have such good staff with IHAAZ and with the other travel clubs around the state. Hockey isn’t a game without other teams to play within each age division and without a strong organization to put on excellent tournaments. We appreciate the opportunity to play competitive hockey all across Arizona and will continue to support efforts to grow those opportunities for years to come.”


— Matt Mackinder

(March 10, 2022)

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