PHILADELPHIA (AP) — When budget cuts were set to close three city ice rinks unless private funding could be found, Flyers chairman Ed Snider stepped in for the save.
Three years later, the refurbished rinks are ready for year-round hockey. Snider, who founded the Flyers, Mayor Michael Nutter and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman were among those in attendance at the ribbon cutting Tuesday for the first restored rink in West Philadelphia.
The neglected, open-air rinks have been transformed as part of a $13 million restoration project into reconstructed, closed rinks worthy of an NHL practice facility.
"It's exceeding my wildest dreams," Snider said. "We're still at the beginning. We're going to get bigger and better."
Kids learn more than skating and stick handling.
The Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation provides free skating programs, ice hockey instruction, equipment and academic services to inner-city children. The renovations at each rink include new classrooms and learning labs — and report cards and class reports are checked before anyone hits the ice.
Former Snider Hockey participant Thomas Brown recalled the days he'd lace up the skates only to find the ice softening or the roof leaking or the brutal winter winds leave him longing for warmth.
He was glad he had the chance to play. He just wished for a more ideal environment.
Brown returned as a graduate of the program — and he still plays hockey. Brown is a goalie on the Penn State Berks collegiate club team.
"Hockey's my life," he said. "It's all I care about."
Snider had a conversation interrupted by a proud grandfather pointing at a photo on the wall: "That's my grandson right there!"
Jerry Keys, of Philadelphia, saw firsthand the positive affect the program had on his grandson. His grandson "didn't know how to skate, had no eye-hand coordination" until he joined the program.
"It gives the kids who would have had nowhere to go a place to play and a place to learn," he said.
Before Snider stepped in, the rinks were open air on four sides, weren't standard size and could only be used from about November to March.
When budget cuts forced Nutter to consider shuttering the rinks, Snider knew he had to do something.
"They don't have things like this in these neighborhoods," he said.
Snider contributed $6.5 million to match a grant from the Commonwealth's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. Two other rinks are close to completion. Similar renovations are scheduled on two other rinks starting in April 2012.
Snider Hockey recently reached a 20-year agreement with the city and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation to extend its partnership through 2030.
"Ed Snider has simply been incredible," Bettman said. "He's committed to the Flyers, to the league, to Philadelphia and he's committed to youth."
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