It’s a cross between a costume party and a Jonas Brothers concert, and has more per capita craziness than the peppiest pep rally. And as the tradition grows, it seems to get louder and more outlandish.
It’s the Easton Skills Competition at the Girls’ National Championship tournament, an event where the stars of the show may very well be the fans in the stands rather than the participants on the ice.
An ocean of colorful jerseys take over the stands surrounding the ice at the ESL Center in Rochester, N.Y., and the noise builds to ear-piercing decibels as the teams start their spirit chants, trying to outdo the other teams in support of their teammates on the ice. These are more than just the old school “We’ve got spirit, yes we do” type of cheers.
What started a decade ago as a quaint skills competition has evolved to a spectacle that organizers could have never imagined, as have the creative costumes that range from face and body paint, to sunglasses, beads, pompoms, sombreros, monopoly money and even a full penguin suit. You name it – some team at some time has probably been there and done that. And yet each year teams find ways to top their efforts from the year before.
It’s the spirit of youth hockey at its best and if only for a few hours, a chance for athletes vying for a National Championship to take a break from the ‘win at all costs’ mentality and cheer on their teammates and sometimes even their competition.
“It truly embodies what youth athletics should be about,” says Easton’s Director of Sports Marketing & Athletes Mark Hughes, who is the
co-creator of the skills challenge and has been instrumental in its growth for 10 years.
“There’s a high level of spirit. The outcome takes a back seat to the camaraderie and support among the teams. It’s a marvelous moment that I wish anyone and everyone in the sport could have the opportunity to experience.”
The spirit contest idea began when Hughes and others wanted to find a way to reward the teams during the skills challenge rather than just the single goalie and skater from each team selected to participate. While the skills challenge is built around what actually takes place on the ice, it’s the exploits of the bleacher creatures that have taken the event to new and outrageous heights.
Over the years Hughes has raised the stakes, and the decibel level inside the arena, by awarding prizes such as gloves and equipment bags to the teams that have shown the most spirit during the event. It’s just another thing that Easton does as the title sponsor of the USA Hockey National Championships.
“Although it’s meant for fun, it’s also a chance to show the best of the best,” says Emily Terranova of the Buffalo Bisons’ 19 & Under team.
Being the best of the best has come to take on different forms. On the ice it could be a sick between the legs trick shot, while in the stands it could be an entire team holding up newspapers while their rivals take their turn on the ice or showing up in full togas complete with leaf crowns.
At the end of the day, it isn’t winning or losing that’s important – it’s a chance for teams to be seen and heard in all of their costumed glory.