The final whistle may have blown for the Barrie Ball Hockey Club, but that doesn’t mean it has to be game over for good.
The Barrie club, which had been operating near the corner of Ferndale Drive and Dunlop Street West since 1994, was sold in October 2021 and then-owner Brian Broley was in the midst of moving Ball Hockey Barrie to another site. During that time, as he was negotiating a lease agreement and looking for another place to move the rinks, Broley died.
The closure, which was announced in March, has shut down the popular outdoor facility, with the final games being played last week and leaving many players wondering what’s next for their favourite sport.
That's where the Essa Hockey League hopes to come in.
“We have already started to attract teams to our league and facilities... so there is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Cory Clapperton, who runs the Thornton-based league along with Janelle Bernier.
Originally started in the Essa Township village in 2008, it has expanded significantly over the years, and now includes play in Alliston, Angus, Innisfil, and Barrie.
Clapperton told BarrieToday the league offers both ice and ball hockey for kids ages three and up, as well as for adults.
News of the Barrie club’s closure was disappointing, he said.
“I actually played in Barrie, as well. When I first moved to Barrie in 1995, I joined Barrie Ball Hockey and I remember when it was one rink and a trailer,” Clapperton said, adding he also worked as a referee for the local league for more than a decade.
Over the years, Clapperton says his league has seen a slow migration of players coming to play from Barrie for both ball hockey and ice hockey, adding he believes the combination of better game times and a more affordable price was often the draw for players from outside their borders.
“To be able to grow to what we’ve become today, we are very proud of that,” he said, adding at the league’s peak, they boasted approximately 170 players in the youth league.
This spring, the league restarted its kids' ball hockey back league for the first time since the pandemic hit. And although he says things were a bit slow at first, they are confident players of all ages will be back at the rink in full force.
“Sports are important. We’ve just gone through a huge pandemic and more than ever people need an outlet. They need the camaraderie. The kids need that interaction with other children. Whether it’s through school, sports, team-building and bonding… being a member of something gives them confidence.”
Adults need it, too, Clapperton added, and having an outlet such as sports is a great way to reconnect and bond.
“I think we play a pretty critical role and we are poised to be able to step in and do this. We have the capacity and the facilities and we are ready to step up," he said. "I feel like we almost have an obligation to the community and to our friends to play.
"At the end of the day, those who want to play do have another option (and) people aren’t going to get left in the lurch.”
Clapperton said the league currently has two rinks at its disposal — one in Thornton and one in Angus, both of which are covered and boast the same non-slip surface as Barrie Ball Hockey's facility.
“People don’t realize how close Thornton is to the south end of Barrie. We are literally only a few minutes down the road. And Angus is only a 15-minute drive from the outskirts of Barrie. We are not that far,” he said.
“We are sad about what happened… but we are here, ready and willing to pick up the slack.”