How West U residents stay competitive in winter sports
It could be January and still feel like fall, but it really doesn’t matter. West University residents who love winter sports will find a way to seek their thrills. Some winter sports fanatics may need to take flight to the Rocky Mountains or other slopes around the globe to get their fix, while some enthusiasts may be fulfilled right here in Space City. Two West U kids, Blake and Patrick Hughes, are as much at home playing competitive hockey and snowboarding as other kids would be playing soccer or basketball.
Blake, an eighth-grader at Pershing Middle School, says, “Ever since I started playing ice hockey when I was 9, I have really loved it.” Blake, who is currently spending a winter term at the Chalet Hohliebi boarding school in Switzerland where he plans on honing in on his skiing skills, hopes to attends boarding school for high school. One of his main criteria for picking a school is—a good ice hockey program!
Blake’s 9-year-old brother, Patrick, is also a contender on the ice. He says, what thrills him about ice hockey is “the speed and contact, and because you can pass, shoot and score.” His favorite position is center, because “you are always in the middle of the action.” When he’s not playing hockey, you may find this West U Elementary third-grader playing baseball or squash.
Parents Cynthe and Brian seem undaunted by the week’s schedule of activities. Besides their job commitments—Brian works for MacQuarie, and Cynthe is heavily involved in volunteer work— there’s getting the boys to their team practices and games. Brian, who played hockey throughout his years at Choate Prep School, has played for the past 15 years here in Houston. “He still continues to play for an ‘old guys’ league in Sugar Land,” says Cynthe.
As the boys practice on one of the two rinks out in Sugar Land, Cynthe says that having the HOV lane to travel on is a lifesaver. As Lamar High School does not have a team, Blake was drafted by the Austin High School prep team. He practices twice a week, as does Patrick’s Squirt team. Although both boys are playing the same sport, trips to the rink do not always coincide between the two teams. “There’s time when it’s divide and conquer,” says Brian.
The financial commitment is also substantial for ice hockey. Equipment is expensive, and parents share the cost of renting the ice rinks and referee salaries. Cynthe good-naturedly notes that there are hockey sticks leaning against her hallway walls, and that her upstairs bathroom has turned into storage. The couple is in the planning stages for a new home, and their architect came over to the house to see how much sports equipment they own. “We are having the design include space to store all of this,” says Cynthe.
Cynthe developed an appreciation for the sport while attending Boston University. Several members of the “Miracle Team” from the Lake Placid Olympics were friends or dorm mates. “So I guess you could say the game is in my blood,” she jokes. “I am less concerned about safety with hockey than with another sport such as football, skiing and riding,” Cynthe shares. “There is a great deal of padding, and unlike turf sports, joint injuries are somewhat rare.” Ice hockey is also popular with girls, and there is one currently playing on Patrick’s team.
Brian says the good thing about hockey is that it trains kids to focus. “The puck moves pretty fast, and you have to keep focused or you’ll miss it,” he says.
The advice for those out there interested in the sport is to learn how to skate well. “Skate, skate, skate. Everything else can be picked up as the boys or girls develop physically,” says Cynthe. Kids who start out young begin on rollerblades first. Blake began skating at age 7, while Patrick did so at age 3 (this was actually by default since his dad had to take him along to the rink with his older brother, while Cynthe went Christmas shopping!). Cynthe says that they know of one current Aeros player who did not begin playing hockey until he was about 11 years old. So for those kids (and parents) who have an interest, it is never too late to start.
Aeros hockey players and their coaches are sometimes on hand to help out with the junior leagues. Patrick has been fortunate to receive some great coaching from then Aeros Head Coach, Todd McCellan, and Aeros Assistant Coach Matt Shaw whose sons played on Patrick’s team.
Both Blake and Patrick’s comfort on the ice has paid off with their agility on snow. While Blake is an excellent snowboarder, Patrick can certainly hold his own on skies. He plans on snowboarding, but not until he can meet his mom’s criteria to do so — “You have to be big enough to carry your own board up the lift.”
The Hughes kids are not allowing the lack of close-to-home ice rinks and slopes to get in their way of what they are most passionate about. And as the movie, Cool Runnings, showed us, if an untrained Jamaican team can rock the bobsledding world at the ’88 Winter Olympics at Calgary, there’s no telling what two brothers from West U can do when it comes to winter sports.
Inspiration from competition
When 2-year-old Hailey Smith grows up, she may enjoy hearing about how her dad, Lamar, climbed to the base of Mount Everest as a student at the Lowell Whiteman School in Colorado. Or she may want to follow his example of competitive skiing while attending the boarding school. Either way, Lamar will enjoy instilling his love of adventure in his daughter.
“I have fond memories of being competitive,” he says. “It’s getting through that jump, pushing yourself through the fear.” Lamar shows his love of extreme sports when he describes his expedition to Nepal to get to the base of Mount Everest, “We trekked for six weeks and for over 300 miles. It was an experience of a lifetime.”
Lamar feels that being a competitive freestyle skier in high school has made him more competitive in life. It has also made him cherish the outdoors. “I was able to take the love of being in the mountains and applying that to rock climbing in Yosemite, going to Mt. Everest, and even running in the Houston (Tenneco) Marathon. The confidence I’ve gained from those years has helped me in my life and work.”
Lamar and his wife, Shannon, are taking Hailey skiing for the first time this January. “I hope Hailey has all the opportunities that I had growing up enjoying the outdoors,” he says. “I believe this will make her a confident and independent person.”
Hailey may not be ready for the moguls yet, but when she is, you can bet her dad will be skiing right alongside her, loving every minute of it!