Students Blade Up for Hockey
JOE VELARDE | February 21, 2012 | UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
When senior electrical engineering major Mario Ramirez was a child, he'd often do what many kids his age would do in his Juárez, Mexico neighborhood: he'd lace up his shoes, and without any regard to the time, temperature or conditions outside, he'd run out to the street for a Sunday afternoon game of soccer. However, there was something else that would whet the interest of this active and rambunctious young man.
"Since I was a kid, I took an interest in in-line skating," he said. "It was really typical in my neighborhood. Many of us knew how to skate, so we used to pick up sticks and hit a tennis ball around the street – playing street hockey."
That's right. This young man from the desert region of Northern Chihuahua took a great interest in a sport that is usually played on the ice.
"It didn't matter that we didn't have any ice," he said. "We loved to play the sport. So from there, hockey became my passion."
Ramirez, along with his cousin, senior industrial engineering student Jorge Villegas, did what many at The University of El Paso still find a bit unusual for a desert city. They formed one of the first hockey clubs for the University. And by hockey, they mean the actual hockey – played on ice.
For nearly two semesters, these two have sought funding for their club, which includes a roster from El Paso's championship Junior A hockey team, the Rhinos, and current UTEP students. Villegas said the club made sense to many of their fellow Rhino friends, who would just as soon stay in El Paso to play the sport during the off-season.
"Our friends would always leave for home, once the season was over," Villegas said. "The problem was, many of them were also UTEP students. If they were going to school, they didn't want to leave just to play hockey. They wanted to get that degree!"
Ramirez, who at one time was a member of the Rhinos, sought membership with UTEP's recreational sports department for support. The team is currently waiting to be sanctioned by the University, though the players are still hard at work – and practice. They are currently in search of much needed funds in order to be recognized officially by the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA), which is just one step below the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Ramirez said.
"We recognize their goal and will continue to work with them to reach that goal," said Hector Muñoz, director of recreational sports at UTEP.
The team is open for tryouts by students and faculty of the University, though practices are $10 per session – which covers the cost of equipment and "ice time" at the Sierra Providence Events Center in South El Paso, home of the Rhinos.
"We know we have a long way to go (being accepted by the ACHA)," Villegas said. "For now, we have a home for hockey, and it's at UTEP."