Share This Page

After long hiatus, hockey returns to Highlands

| Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 12:11 a.m.
Courtesy of Sean Dicer
Highlands' revived hockey team poses for a photo during its alumni game event June 1, 2013. Members include (in front) Kris Fairman; (kneeling, from left) Doryan Ward, Mason Prill, Derrek Koblinsky, Dante Hill and Chad Swartz; and (standing) coach Rick Lawes, Noah Hetler, Daniel Gleinn, Bobby Kinsey, Michael Sokol, Andrew McCoy, Matt Nolker, Mason Scherer and Perry Shiring.

As the steady presence of players on the outdoor concrete rink near Dreshar Stadium suggests, there's a healthy hockey culture taking shape in Highlands School District.

Soon those kids will be able to lace up ice skates and call themselves Golden Rams.

For the first time since 1999, Highlands will have a hockey program. It will join the PIHL for the 2013-14 season, and though details such as what division it will join and how many players will be on the roster remain undetermined, the program has the foundational pieces in place.

“There were a lot of things that came into alignment for this to happen,” said Rick Lawes, who will be the team's coach. “You're starting a program more or less from scratch, and that's kind of neat. That's not something that comes along too often.”

Count Lawes' involvement among the fortuitous aspects of Highlands' formation. A Vermont native who arrived in Pittsburgh about six years ago, he settled down in Shadyside and, as a hockey enthusiast and lifelong player, began to look for adult leagues. Through adult hockey, he connected with Shawn Wislie, a 1994 Highlands graduate.

Wislie and Lawes played hockey at the Pittsburgh Ice Arena, formerly known as the Valley Sports Complex, for several years. They also began to hold instruction sessions for young players and briefly served as coaches in the Pittsburgh Vipers' in-house program.

Through those roles, they met Theresa Hetler and her son, Noah.

Noah Hetler, a hockey player since third grade, was one of several Highlands area players in search of more opportunities. He joined the Vipers organization. He belonged to Burrell's freshman team the past three years.

As she wandered through the Harmarville Bladerunners in November, Theresa Hetler, the program's eventual president, noticed a flyer about starting new high school teams hanging on a bulletin board. The note advised her to get in touch with PIHL officials, who advised her on how to start the application process.

She reached out to other hockey parents and found them just as willing to make Highlands hockey a reality. She and treasurer Maria Scherer became a dynamic duo.

“The kids bond together, the parents bond together, and we just become one big happy family,” Hetler said. “Everyone just steps up to the plate. You don't have to ask.”

When the time came to find a coach, Hetler turned to Wislie.

Wislie belonged to Highlands' inaugural hockey team, which called Kittanning's Belmont Complex home. He still has the puck he used to score Highlands' inaugural goal during the 1990-91 season.

“The wife dug that out of the archives, and we had to brush the dirt off of it,” said Wislie, who has two sons and still lives in the district.

He agreed to help with Highlands' revival as an assistant. He wanted his friend, Lawes, a man who has attended the PIHL championships the past several years just for fun, to spearhead the effort.

“He loves this level,” Wislie said. “It's right up his alley.”

For now, Highlands' roster barely meets the PIHL-required minimum of 12 players, so the Golden Rams could join the league as a “pure” team, meaning that it would use players strictly from its district. Hetler said she and her cohorts are still considering the possibility of Highlands operating as an Open Class program, which would allow the team to use players from other nearby schools.

There's talk of freshman and developmental youth teams, too, Hetler said.

Highlands completed its first on-ice competition June 1, as the current players clashed with Golden Rams alumni; the alums won, 5-3.

Hetler, whose son will be a sophomore in the fall, has no intention of seeing Highlands stay in the Open Class for long. Nor does she anticipate another short-lived existence for the program.

“I feel 100 percent confident that Highlands hockey will continue on,” she said. “There are a lot of boys playing in middle school, and they're eager — they cannot wait to play high school hockey.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.