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Rolling Along: Roller Hockey Program Thrives in Peachtree Corners

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Norcross Roller Hockey
Norcross Roller Hockey’s MS Rink Rats vs. MS Gladiators Game at a January game (Photo by Paul Peterson, Visit his profile for more information, www.flickr.com/people/paulpete)

They’re small by comparison, but scrappy. And quite skilled.

High school team vs. Norcross Roller Hockey coaches (Courtesy NRH)

The Norcross Roller Hockey Program (NRH) at Pinckneyville Park on the Peachtree Corners-Norcross boundary may not gather in the thousands of youths and adults who take part in area football, baseball and recreational soccer programs, but interest is growing, said league officials, even if more than a few local people have no idea the program exists.

What they lack in size, they more than make up for in enthusiasm. The games are like a fluid dance with a hockey stick accompaniment as players move rhythmically up and down the court on their inline skates, constantly in motion, deftly passing (and stealing) the hard plastic puck and taking shots at a hyper-focused goalie.

Mark and Dianne Ogden

It’s a tight-knit and supportive bunch that gathers each week at a well-appointed rink that boosters think is likely the finest outdoor roller hockey facility in the Southeast.

“We are in excess of 100 players right now, “said John Hendry, President of the parent Peachtree Booster Club, which also includes a soccer program. “We have been as high as 250 people (in a non-COVID year), so it’s varied between 100 and 250 over the years.”

Norcross Roller Hockey’s MS Rink Rats vs. MS Gladiators Game at a January game
(Photos by Paul Peterson, Visit his profile for more information, www.flickr.com/people/paulpete)

“A lot of it is letting people know we’re here,” he added. Agreeing with that, Mark Ogden said, “It was tough getting the word out. We always found that a lot of people didn’t know about the program. Either they weren’t close to it or we didn’t do a good enough job of publicizing it. You’re always in competition with other sports.” Ogden presided over NRH for nearly a decade and stepped away after his kids aged out of the sport.

Norcross Roller Hockey’s MS Rink Rats vs. MS Gladiators Game at a January game
(Photos by Paul Peterson, Visit his profile for more information, www.flickr.com/people/paulpete)

A northern game moves south

Ogden gets a huge credit for advancing the program that kicked off in 1975 at the behest of northern transplants who wanted to bring their favorite sport south. Games — originally it was only an adult league — were held in the gym at Peachtree Elementary School, later moving to a concrete slab in Pinckneyville Park after Gwinnett County built it in the early 1990s.

Longtime officials praise Ogden for lobbying the county to construct the current rink around 2006. The $1.6 million project included a sport court surface designed specifically for inline hockey, new dasher boards, quality lighting, an upgraded scoreboard and cooling fans for hot-weather games.

Today the operation is helmed by hockey vice president Nick Sally, who said NRH is still upping its game, having improved its website and increasing its social media presence. He brings a lot of cred, having grown up playing roller hockey and swatting the hard plastic puck in college and semi-pro play later.

Sally’s still hip-deep involved, playing in the adult program as well as coaching. His youngsters are in the youth division, which starts with 4 to 6-year-olds and extends upward to the youth hockey program encompassing categories from 8 and younger to 18 and under.

Skill and character

The kids obviously want to win, but Sally is quick to point out that “we try to make it very family friendly, which fits right into the Peachtree Corners vibe. We have proud parents cheering for the kids, but nobody is yelling and screaming at each other.”

The program puts a strong emphasis on recreation coupled with skill and character development, he and others said.

Three of the players on the Gladiators youth team that lost on a 10-9 shootout that January Saturday nevertheless displayed a pumped and positive vibe. To a person, they signal they’ve developed greatly and are by no means done with that process.

“We put a lot of effort into the game and we may have lost, but we played pretty well,” said Ben Vanden Bos. He said he wants to shift to ice hockey at some point and got interested after seeing his uncle coach a team.

“I think I’ve become a lot more athletic playing roller hockey,” he explained. “It is harder than a lot of different sports. There are more mechanics with shooting and developing strength through skating.”

Teammate Eduardo Avila-Hinton Junior also has his gaze on the ice and said, in addition to developing character and motor skills, he’s been able to connect and make new friends. And he says it’s helped take his mind off teenaged stress (he’s 13) and the overall events of the year when he gets lost in midst of a contest.

And then there are the lessons that are not as apparent on the surface as are the toned muscles and rocket like passing and puck-handling. “It’s taught me to be more humble,” said Timothy Hendry, “and not act arrogant about how I play or how I am with sports. It’s also teamwork.”

Norcross Roller Hockey coach Mike Bergeson (Courtesy NRH)

“It’s a natural progression,” John Hendry, father of Timothy, said of the desire to glide and slide on ice. “As the kids get into the teenage years, a lot of them are moving up to ice. It’s a loss for us but it’s a win for the sport.”

Norcross Roller Hockey coach Jim Asztalos
(Courtesy NRH)

On the plus side

He does point out the roller form of the sport has some distinct advantages over and differences from the iced version — even if they are close cousins.

Body checking is not allowed, and that means fewer injuries. Positions aren’t divided into offensive and defensive ranks, which results in a fluid, rhythmic motion up and down the court, making a game more of an endurance contest and a showcase for teamwork. Players are four to a team with a goalie instead of five.

And, said Hendry, there’s a financial factor. The league costs about $100 for a three-month season.

“I know how expensive other sports can be,” he said, running well into the hundreds of dollars “and this gives them the same benefit at a much lower cost.” It’s also a quick learn, he said. Kids step onto the play surface with no experience and within three weeks, “they’re skating and handling the puck and able to take part in the game.”

Ogden maintains a strong affinity for the game, even though he’s gotten out of active involvement with the league and booster club, and he thinks back to when he got involved. His oldest began playing after a neighboring friend took up the sport, then the other two joined in.

“I just fell in love with it,” he said.

As have literally successive generations. Youngsters playing in the program are following in the footsteps, well, skates of parents and even grandparents who also played.

With other roller hockey rinks having opened in places such as Snellville and Peachtree City and the local kids traveling to play teams there, the future looks busier.

“I see no sign of it going away anytime soon,” said Hendry. “I’ve been involved with this program for ten years and it’s definitely growing.”

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Sports

Q & A with Wesleyan Senior Golfer Jada Richardson

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Golfer Jada Richardson takes a focused swing. Photos provided by Annielle Ball Richardson.

To succeed in the challenging sport of golf requires hyper-focus and drive. Wesleyan School senior golfer Jada Richardson has that and more. She was recently named one of Gwinnett Daily Post’s “Super Six”, which recognizes the top six athletes of each sport in Gwinnett County at the start of each sport’s season. She has put a fair amount of time and effort to achieve excellence in not only her sport but in her future going forward, culminating in her signing to swing for Howard University.

Richardson’s wins in the sport are numerous, but here are a few accomplishments to hone in on how she reached Super Six status:

  • State Coach Award (2019)
  • First Team All-County by the Gwinnett Daily Post (2019)
  • Team’s Most Valuable Player (2019)
  • 1st in HJGT at Chateau Elan
  • 2nd in SJGT at Berkley Hills Junior Classic
  • 4th in SJGT at Georgia Club Classic
  • T46/85 in at Junior North and South Amateur
  • 31st/53 in GSGA Junior Girls Championship
  • Top 5 in GA PGA Jr Atlanta Junior Championship
  • Top 5 in GA PGA Jr Roswell Junior Championship
  • Top 20 in PKB at Walker Course

We had a great conversation with Richardson about her exciting journey, so let’s take a look at that interview.

How would you describe yourself as a golfer?

Richardson: I would say that I am a focused golfer. 

What skills or traits do you feel make for a successful golfer?

Richardson: I am accurate with my driver and irons. 

What do you do to train?

 Richardson: I typically go out to the golf course and go through drills for each area of my game (putting, chipping/pitching, irons)

What do you like to do in your free time away from competition and school?

Richardson: I enjoy traveling, hanging out with my family, little sister Kyla, friends, reading, and listening to music 

Has anyone acted as your mentor or inspiration?

Richardson: I don’t really have a specific mentor, but I am inspired by the women on the LPGA Tour. 

What made you decide that Howard University was the right school for you?

Richardson: Coach Puryear’s reputation as a coach really drew me towards the school. I also felt like I would have great opportunities studying in D.C

What would you say is your favorite memory competing in your sport?

Richardson: It’s hard to narrow it down to just one, but my overall favorite memory is getting to play different courses during the summer with my friends. I really enjoyed getting to play in a tournament last summer in Savannah with some of friends from my home course. 

What’s been your biggest accomplishment to date?

Richardson: Winning a tournament last summer. 

What study will you be pursuing in college and what prompted you to that field?

Richardson: I will be studying international business. I thought this was be an interesting field because it combines other places around the world and business.

Good luck at Howard University, Jada Richardson! We know you will make us proud!

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Sports

Tennis Anyone? The Vibrant Tennis Scene in Peachtree Corners

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tennis in peachtree corners
Featured photo by George Hunter. Steger Ryland (foreground) with Hank Skurpski.

It’s time to get into the backswing of things. For tennis lovers of every age, stage and skill level, there is a place in Peachtree Corners to pick up a racquet.

Where to Play

Peachtree Corners Swim & Racquet Club

People make quite a racquet about Peachtree Corners Swim & Racquet Club (PCSR) because of the vast amenities it offers member families for recreation, quality exercise and more. It boasts four lit tennis courts with covered seating areas on each side, reservable through their website or app. Other features include a six-lane junior Olympic sized pool, playground, ping pong table, tetherball court, basketball court, volleyball court and a seasonal pavilion.

There are many teams that compete out of PCSR, in the respected tennis organizations of Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA) and United States Tennis Association (USTA). This spans to adult men’s and women’s teams, as well as mixed doubles. Teams are open to club members, but non-club members can play out of the club for an additional fee.

2020 junior ALTA champions from Peachtree Corners Swim & Racquet.

“Peachtree Corners has a vibrant tennis community across multiple clubs and neighborhoods, so you don’t have to travel very far to get a match in,” PCSR Membership Chair Sonny Pieper said.

Tennis is a social sport with a broad appeal, bringing people from all walks of life together to work out and have a blast. PCSR Tennis Chair Ryan Corley first joined a weekly Sunday women’s team for beginners, before eventually stepping to a leadership role.

“I only started playing tennis myself the last three years, because there was an opening advertised for a beginner’s team out of our club. It was a great way to get to know people and to get to learn the game more and to foster that team spirit,” Corley said.

For more information, check out peachtree-corners.org.

Jones Bridge Swim and Tennis

Jones Bridge Swim and Tennis Club boasts a saline pool and 6 lit tennis courts for year-round play.  All 6 courts will be resurfaced at the beginning of May and will include pickleball and kids lines.

The club offers weekday and weekend teams across all levels of skill for ALTA and USTA. They have five to six teams for ALTA Mixed Doubles and four Men’s and four Women’s Doubles teams. Often they have one or more teams in playoff contention. Many players also play in flex leagues out of the club.

Their tennis pro, Courtney Allen, offers team drills, private, semi-private, group lessons and a juniors academy.

Another unique feature the club offers is cardio tennis which is available to both members and nonmembers.  Cardio tennis combines tennis and fitness with music – classes are held Monday evenings and Friday mornings. 

Jones Bridge Swim and Tennis also hosts fun tournaments every month including round robin mixers and triples tournaments.  For more information on Jones Bridge STC tennis, visit jonesbridgeclub.com/

The Club at Spalding Corners

This active neighborhood’s club offers four courts to its members. Both of their mixed teams won in their respective divisions this year and, in fact, one of their mixed captains is the second longest running captain in ALTA history, according to President of Spalding Corners Neighborhood Association (SCNA) Megan Powell.

The Club at Spalding Corners members showing off ALTA first place plaques

“Tennis is the best sport ever! It’s a great social sport, and to be competitive and compete at all ages is so great,” Powell said.

SCNA Tennis Chair Christina Stolte has been playing for roughly 21 years, starting about a year after moving into Spalding Corners. She also served as the former HOA president and now serves as the Grounds Committee Chairperson.

Stolte, who is instrumental in coordinating all things tennis at The Club in Spalding Corners, is quick to point out all the great opportunities for play — singles, doubles, mixed doubles, tournaments and more. Two years ago, the club hosted a triples tournament for members and guests to try a unique and different form of gameplay. The SCNA also offers tennis pro coaches for lessons and summer camps, as well as kids’ play.

The club is voluntary membership for residents of Spalding Corners, but it also allows non-residents to join for dues of $685 for families and $485 for adult individuals. Standard operation hours are 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday, according to their website.

In addition to its tennis offerings, The Club at Spalding Corners also has a lovely pool that has recently been resurfaced. It serves as the home base for the Spalding Corners Sharks, who ranked first place in Gwinnett County Summer Swim Leagues.

Peachtree Station Swim & Tennis

Peachtree Station Swim & Tennis Club (PSST) has eight LED-lighted tennis courts and two full-time certified United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) and United States Professional Tennis Registry (USPTR) tennis professionals on staff. Offerings include group, semi-private and private lessons, summer/holiday tennis camps, cardio tennis, tournaments, racket stringing and demos. The variety of levels of ALTA and USTA teams for men, women, children, seniors and mixed doubles out of PSST runs the gamut.

For those of us who really want to get the most out of every swing, it sometimes takes a savvy coach to motivate and teach us. That’s where a hardworking athlete comes in, like Joe Rahme, one of the tennis pros who works within PSST and Peachtree Corners Swim & Racquet. He puts his players through their paces, often instructing over several courts at once to make sure they’re getting the attention they need.

Coach Joe Rahme and his student tennis players

“Probably the most satisfying thing is just seeing everyone improve,” Rahme said. “I’ve had some players come is as complete beginners. They have never even played the game, and then over the year they become really good. And that is the most satisfaction I get.” Rahme also remarked that often tennis is a main source of exercise for people who go into the office (or work from home), so he makes sure they get a good workout.

“We believe that tennis is the ideal sport for a number of reasons,” PSST Club Manager Lise Weaver said. “Tennis is a sport that can be played for a lifetime. At PSST, tennis provides our members an opportunity to socialize and meet new people, and we even offer things like cardio tennis for those looking to use tennis as a way to get or stay in shape! Not to mention, tennis is relatively inexpensive and is a low injury sport.”

The Fields Club —Amberfield, Riverfield and Linfield

The Fields Club encompasses 50 acres of land between the Riverfield and Amberfield neighborhoods, much of that in view of the Chattahoochee River. It’s a mandatory membership community for residents, and it’s also open to outside members for access to its recreational programs, two pools, upcoming permanent pickleball courts, walking trails and 16 tennis courts. It’s interesting to note that they have the most tennis courts of any HOA Swim and Tennis community in the area.

Riverfield Fields Club aerial view.

Ace Tennis Academy, under Ace Tennis Management, has operated in the area for 25 years and has been with Fields Club since 2015. There are seven full-time on-site coaches on staff, and there tends to be 15 to 16 adult teams active in ALTA or USTA every season. There is ample opportunity for summer play and programs for all ages and abilities. The junior tennis program spans from introductory tennis to kids who are top players in the country.

“To give you a little history, we have had eight players who have hit number one in the country over the years, and a pretty solid number of kids who have gone on to play college tennis,” Tennis Director Jeff Weaver said.

Jeff Weaver

Ace’s team of tennis pros provides all the programming for the club “and the competitive part of the academy just kind of sits on top,” Weaver added.

For information on the Fields club, visit fieldsclub.com or email membership@fieldsclub.com.

Greater Atlanta Christian School Tennis Academy

In addition to its educational value, Greater Atlanta Christian School (GAC) has a unique asset in its tennis academy that allows students to receive tennis instruction as a PE elective or free period alternative during the school day.

GAC Tennis Pro Scott Hutchinson gives a lesson at GAC Tennis Academy.

With six outdoor courts and two additional indoor courts, there is plenty of room for kids to play. It’s worth noting that GAC is the only school campus in the state of Georgia to have indoor courts. The courts are within walking distance for students who participate in the tennis academy during school hours, so middle and high school players can walk over freely; elementary play is limited as younger children require an escort.

GAC Tennis Academy is a fully functional tennis academy that has operated within the school since 2017, with tennis professional staff accredited with USPTA and USPTR tennis coaches, professional organizations and USTA high performance certified coaches. Many of their tennis pro coaches have a trophy case full of awards and accolades, including Scott Hutchinson’s and Rocky Warner’s 2019 USTA Facility of the Year and 2020 USPTA Industry Excellence awards.

The academy is not a separate entity from the school; it’s completely integrated under its athletic arm. Similar school programs typically bring in an outside organization to provide such specialized programs, but GAC made a point to construct a new kind of leadership.

“We were very intentional in setting up GAC Tennis Academy as a direct part of the school instead of a separate group so we could be connected to the students and help them to succeed in the sport,” Hutchinson said.

Per scholastic sports regulations, the GAC Tennis Academy does not coach the GAC school tennis teams in any way and are not allowed to be present at practices. Student players can participate in camps and private lessons, however, and many do.

GAC Tennis Academy welcomes outside players from other schools for after-school programs, and also works with adults in USTA and ALTA. The academy will be part of GAC Grow Camps this summer. For more information, visit greateratlantachristian.org/athletics.

Life Time Athletic and Tennis Peachtree Corners

Life Time Peachtree Corners has 28 total tennis courts — 16 outdoor hard courts, 4 clay courts and 8 indoor tennis courts. They recently partnered with Academia Sánchez Casal to offer a junior academy for high level junior tennis players. Then there is the SMART Junior program, a junior development program that offers classes for ages four and up.

Life Time Peachtree Corners

“Our innovative SMART programming focuses on fun and athleticism first, with tennis skills coming second,” said Lifetime Public Relations Specialist Dan DeBaun. “We also offer a Play, Learn, Love Program — this is our beginner pathway for adults.”

Additionally, Life Time Peachtree Corners offers in-house leagues, mixers and tournaments for all levels, as well as ALTA and USTA League play. For anyone looking for one-on-one instruction, private lessons with USPTA and PTR certified professionals are available.

Find out more about life at Life Time at lifetime.life.

USTA and ALTA: A Primer

Here is a general overview of the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA) and United States Tennis Association (USTA) sports organizations, which set the standards and organizational structures of competitive tennis in the U.S.

The USTA Southern office is located in Peachtree Corners, though their influence and authority reach much further.

“USTA Southern is one of 17 USTA sections. USTA Southern is the largest, with 25 percent of the national membership,” explained USTA Southern Communications Director Ron Cioffi. USTA Southern covers Georgia and also included Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

“USTA Southern acts as a regional office, even though we are called a section,” Cioffi continued. “Each of our states is considered a district. Local tennis play is organized by community tennis associations (CTA). USTA Atlanta is the local CTA and covers much of metro Atlanta.”

ALTA’s office is located in nearby Roswell and has much in common with USTA. They are both non-profit or not-for-profit organizations dedicated to maintaining the rules of play and sportsmanship. ALTA is also affiliated with USTA through membership in the Southern Tennis Association and abides by the USTA rules of tennis and code of play.

The main difference between the two, if any, is simply ALTA’s focus on play in the Metro Atlanta area. But if you play adult tennis locally and competitively, chances are high that any team you join would be under one of these two umbrellas.

*This article has been updated on April 12, to include information from Jones Bridge Swim and Tennis

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Education

15 Norcross High School Players Sign to College Football Teams

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Norcross High School Football celebrated a great signing day this past Wednesday. Congratulations to all the young men signing their National Letters of Intent to continue their education and football careers! As we could not have Signing Day in person, please view the 2021 Virtual National College Signing Day video.

2021 Norcross Football Signees

Zion Alexander – East Tennessee State University

Quinton Bradford– Concord University

Jahni Clarke – Valparaiso University

Jalen Garner – University of Houston

D’Andre Golden– Keiser University

Trey Goodman– Austin Peay University

Josh Graham– Morgan State University

Micah Green – Concord University

Xavier Herndon– University of Pikeville

Kaleb Jackson– Georgia Military College

Mason Kaplan– Valparaiso University

Kamren Lark– Morgan State University

Zemetrick Larry- Georgia Military College

Tripp Miller– University of West Georgia

Lovelle Williams– Mars Hill University

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