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Learn to Play Program Helps Youth Skate Through Life

By Jennifer Lazzo

Two sheets of ice at the Prince William Ice Center provide area youth opportunities to learn how to skate and play hockey.

PWIC is a member of the Washington Capitals Learn to Play program, which provides participants learning to play hockey with a free set of equipment worth more than $500. Funded by the National Hockey League, the program aims to offer families an introduction to the sport of hockey by teaching age-appropriate fundamental skills for youth ages 5 to 9.

PWIC offers three sessions that begin in November, January and March and last 6-8 weeks. The cost of a session is $168. Last year, about 150 children participated in the program.

“The NHL is trying to remove the initial cost,” said RJ Zeigler, general manager for PWIC. “Hockey gear can get expensive, so parents are reluctant to spend the money on it if their children don’t like the sport. It allows parents to avoid the sticker shock.”

Parent Akua Crutchley agrees. “When we signed Robert up, he got all the hockey gear for free, which we love so much. It has saved us a lot of money. Right now, he loves to skate and wants to play all the time.”

She plans to encourage friends to have their children join the program, too. “The younger they are, the better,” Crutchley said. “Playing hockey has helped him become brave and be a risk-taker and [have] self-control.”

PWIC is home to the Potomac Patriots youth hockey program and the Junior Patriots, a college preparatory team that draws athletes from all over the nation and world. In addition to hockey, PWIC is home to two teams of the National Blades, which perform synchronized skating, as well as a learn to skate program and a homeschool hockey and skate class on Wednesdays.

Since taking the helm of PWIC in July, Zeigler has focused on exposing hockey and figure skating to local schools, churches and groups. “The Center has more than just public sessions,” he said. “There is such a diversity of programs – hockey and skating for all ages and skills. We host birthday parties, broomball, fundraisers and other events, too.”

After spending 22 years working at PWIC, Zeigler said, “This job is so great. To be able to pursue your passion … I want to give children an opportunity, too.”

The Prince William Ice Center is located at 5180 Dale Boulevard, Woodbridge. For additional information, visit pwice.com or call 703-730-8423.

Jennifer Lazzo ([email protected]) is a freelance writer and editor who earned a B.A. in technical journalism and political science from Colorado State University. She lives with her husband and twin girls in Montclair.

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