What the puck!? There’s midnight hockey in Pineville

Plus: Vote on 2040 plan delayed; Why CMS is changing class schedules; Hall Family Farm to open for strawberry pickin' again (in new spot); Hornets' LaMelo Ball out for season with broken wrist?

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With Covid curfew gone, relocated Northerners jostle for late-night ‘ice time’ at 2 local rinks; a night of camaraderie, beer — and a fight

More than 500 people play in Pineville Ice House’s recreational adult leagues — so many that some games are scheduled on weeknights as late as 11:30 p.m.

by Cristina Bolling

At 11:30 p.m. on a Thursday, most of Pineville is tucked into bed, but Pineville Ice House is pumping as a referee blows his whistle and drops a puck at center ice to start a hockey match between the Pounders and the Cobra Kai.

Ten players and two goalies stand by in padded armor and skates, ready to pounce.

Five hours ago, these guys were salesmen and chefs, chemical company workers and project managers. Then they had dinner with their families, bid them goodnight and headed to the rink as the nearby Food Lion locked its doors for the night.

The late hour isn’t their choice, but it’s unavoidable. Recreational adult hockey has exploded in Charlotte, as the number of men and women playing in leagues has swelled into the thousands, making “ice time” a hot commodity.

Here’s why: During the last decade, people moved here in droves from frosty states like Michigan and New York, where hockey is big. Some believe the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup win created so much craze over the sport that Carolinas kids who took up the pastime as a result of it grew into adults who now crowd rec leagues.

As a result, the two lone ice rinks in the Charlotte region have been increasingly scrambling to keep up with demand.

Pineville Ice House has seen its adult recreational program swell to more than 500 men and women in its five leagues that play on three weeknights and Sundays.

The other local ice rink, Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail, also has more than 500 players in its house league, and another 250 who play in a less competitive league that rents ice time on Extreme Ice’s two “sheets” or rinks.

Because adult hockey can’t start until after 7:30 or 8 p.m. most nights, after the kid hockey practices, figure skating and youth games have ended and the Zamboni has smoothed the ice, games are going later and later.

“It’s funny, I started seeing a girl, and when I told her I have 11:30 games, her jaw dropped,” laughed Andrew Maronich, hockey operations manager at Pineville Ice House. “People don’t get it, but we’re used to it.”

A ‘lifestyle,’ interrupted by Covid: Recreational sports leagues have always been rich opportunities for fellowship. Strong bonds form with the help of endorphins and the shared love of a game.

Hockey does that in a special way, players say, especially in the South, where hockey is less common. For many, it’s a touchpoint from home that the players share.

Players attend each other’s weddings, and their families become friends while huddling together on the chilly bleachers during not-so-late games. Some Pineville players buy and sell houses with the help of a Realtor in the league, and when someone’s kid is sick or an emergency crops up, the teammates come to each other’s aid.

“It’s a lifestyle,” says Brandon Corder, a Wells Fargo business systems consultant by day and youth hockey coach and recreational hockey player at Pineville by night.

Corder says had he not had his youth coaching gig during the 10 p.m. Covid curfew, “I would have definitely had some sort of withdrawal,” because only a handful of teams could play in Pineville each week while the curfew was in effect.

“It’s like a family. … The camaraderie, the creativity — there’s so much in it,” he says. “The goalie makes a save and the other team goes and congratulates him on it. I know guys that are engineers, or auto body techs, chefs, everything. All different walks of life, all age groups.”

He continues: “All the teams get along, for the most part, off the ice. When you’re on the ice, you’ll see it get kind of chippy like the pros do, but the second they get off the ice they’re all hanging out in the bar, buying each other a beer and talking it out.”

Energy and fistfights: But it is hockey, after all.

On this Thursday night, a full-on fight breaks out after a player on the Cobra Kai team thunders the puck into the Pounders net, bringing the score to 4-4 with just over a minute left in the game. A Pounders player is unhappy and the tussle escalates.

The lone spectator in the stands, a player’s girlfriend named Ashley Smith, watches as the two men clash, their helmets and sticks flying across the ice. One player pulls the other’s jersey off, his pads exposed, as the two teams and referees watch.

“They don’t break them up until they hit the ground,” Smith tells a gobsmacked reporter. The referee ejects the men from the game and they stomp off to the locker room.

A DJ just off center ice, who’s been spinning snippets of hits like Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” and The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” between plays, pauses the music as the game resumes.

The players have been roaring up and down the ice with an intensity that makes it feel more like 8 p.m. than 12:30, but with the tie, there’s a new energy in the air.

And at 12:52 a.m., with Thursday now turned into Friday, a winner emerges in overtime: The Pounders have defeated Cobra Kai, 5-4.

The players line up, give each other fist-bumps and skate off the ice and head to the showers.

More ice on the way?: One solution to the late-night hockey conundrum would be to build new rinks, or to expand the two that exist.

There are rumors that Extreme Ice Center has such plans. The facility posted a photo on Facebook in late February of a cleared lot near their building with the caption “XIC has a special project underway!”

Some believe it’ll be a new outdoor rink, but center leaders are being tight-lipped.

Rich Conlan, adult hockey coordinator for Extreme Ice Center, said even he doesn’t know what’s up.

Neither does Doug Faulhaber, commissioner of the Old Time Hockey Association, a more laid-back league that plays at Extreme Ice, with the motto “we all like to play hockey but we all have to work in the morning.”

Conlan’s game-night routine is to spend time with his wife and 1-year-old daughter before heading to the rink — a pre-game nap will just make him groggy — and plan for extra caffeine in the morning.

“Sometimes after a late game, we don’t fall asleep until 1, 2 o’clock in the morning,” Conlan said. “That’s when you have an extra 1-2 cups of coffee to get the day going. And I try to wake up a little early — just to get out of that hockey daze.”

Cristina Bolling is managing editor of The Ledger: cristina@cltledger.com

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… and T.R. Lawing Realty:

Why CMS plans to double in-person instruction for grades 6-12

A new law and guidance from the state are all but forcing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to return middle and high school students to classrooms 4 days a week starting after spring break, top CMS officials said over the weekend.

The CMS board plans to meet tomorrow to vote on yet another change to student schedules. Grades 6-12 now attend 2 days a week, but Superintendent Earnest Winston said Friday that he is recommending a 4-days-a-week schedule.

In a Zoom conversation with teacher advocate Amanda Thompson-Rice posted on Facebook on Friday night, board chair Elyse Dashew and executive director of government affairs Charles Jeter said the new school reopening law and guidance last week from the State Board of Education is forcing districts to adopt several changes, including:

  • Allowing parents to switch their children from fully remote instruction to in-person learning. Parents will have until April 1 to make that choice. CMS has about 60,000 students in its Full Remote Academy.

  • Allowing parents of children with disabilities to have access to full in-person instruction. CMS has about 19,000 students who have special accommodations through what are known as individualized education programs (IEPs) or Section 504 plans.

Those changes, Dashew and Jeter said, would all but require CMS to adopt what’s known as “Plan A” for grades 6-12, because the possibility of thousands of students opting into classrooms could make it impossible to maintain the more stringent social distancing requirements (6 feet) under the rules for hybrid instruction (“Plan B”). Schools under the full in-person plan (“Plan A”) need to have only 3 feet of social distancing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that 3 feet is an acceptable distance in schools.

The changes would likely take effect April 12.

In school during May tests: In addition, CMS will have to rescind plans to have students in remote learning for most of May during testing, Jeter said. Fully remote learning for those students is no longer legal.

The bipartisan law passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly unanimously and was signed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on March 11, 2 days after CMS made its latest schedule changes.

In response to a comment from a teacher who said she found so many changes “exhausting,” board member Carol Sawyer wrote on Facebook: “The Board doesn’t have a choice. We must comply with state law.”

Board member Lenora Shipp wrote: “It has been a lot of change unfortunately — not within our control.”

Caught in the middle: To hear board members tell it, CMS has been caught between fast-changing guidelines from different levels of government. Just 6 weeks ago, classrooms were closed completely as CMS followed the county health department’s guidance as Covid cases spiked. Now, it’s poised to offer almost full-time in-classroom instruction based on new rules from the state.

On Friday’s Zoom call, Thompson-Rice said all the changes have caused CMS staff to become tired, scared and anxious.

In reply, Dashew said: “As far as the anxiety going up — I don’t know that this would make anybody feel any better — but it has for me, too. Every time we have another change coming at us that we have to wrestle with, I age another 5 years in a week [laughs]. I’m really, really feeling it for you guys.” —TM

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Vote on 2040 Comprehensive Plan delayed; ‘more time’ needed

The timetable for the city to adopt a new and sweeping 2040 Comprehensive Plan is being delayed by at least a couple months so council members can continue to consider proposed changes.

The new plan is for City Council committees to discuss some of the most controversial provisions and hold weekly public conversations with residents and to receive a recommendation on changes to the plan by June 30, according to a Sunday email to council members from Mayor Vi Lyles. She sent it just before 3 p.m., and it leaked to the media in less than 30 minutes (Joe Bruno on Twitter, Ledger on Twitter).

In an Observer article later Sunday, Lyles explained: “I had conversations with many community groups, many special interest groups, and they all said we need more time, the council said we need more time.”

The council is holding a previously scheduled public hearing on the plan tonight and was expected to vote on adopting it in April. But in the last few weeks, council members have been receiving increased feedback from neighborhood advocates and developers, many of whom have concerns about some parts of the 320-page document that the city has been working on for years to help guide Charlotte’s growth. The most prominent objection is to a provision that allows duplex and triplexes to be built in single-family neighborhoods.

Asked last week about the possibility of a delay, city planning director Taiwo Jaiyeoba told WFAE that the City Council would make that decision but that an extended postponement is unwise: “A delay of a year is not acceptable,” he said. “Trees are are being cut every day. The environment is being polluted every day. We need to have action on this as soon as possible.” —TM

Hall Family Farm is back — in a new location

Hall Family Farm, the popular pick-your-own-strawberries site in Ballantyne, is back for 2021 in a new location about 15 miles to the south.

The farm sold 2 years ago to Novant Health, which is building a new hospital on the corner of Johnston Road and Providence Road West, The Ledger reported at the time (in our 4th-ever newsletter — it was our first scoop, based on a tip from a real estate source). It had been family-owned since the 1920s and was initially much larger and included the site of modern-day Ballantyne Country Club.

Hall Family Farm announced on Facebook that it plans to reopen in mid- to late-April at a new site off U.S. 521 in near Van Wyck Elementary School in Lancaster County.

“We kept our noses to the grindstone 7 days/week and will be ready to open our farm for u-pick strawberries starting mid/late April,” the post said. “… After five years of blood, sweat, and tears, we are very excited to open our new farm to you this spring!”

It’s still a little early for strawberries, but Charlotte on the Cheap keeps a running list of local you-pick-’em produce farms. —TM

ImaginOn is shroomin’

HAVING LOTS OF FUNGI: Charlotte Center City Partners and ImaginOn have installed a temporary art exhibit called Shrooms. It’s described as an “immersive artwork of 15 giant inflatable mushroom shapes that encourages our social nature while contrasting with the urban environment.” It was created by Australian art studio Amigo & Amigo. It runs outside ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center through April 18.

In brief:

  • LaMelo out for season? Charlotte Hornets star LaMelo Ball suffered a broken wrist Saturday night, the team said, and ESPN cited unnamed sources saying he is “expected to miss the remainder of the season.”

  • Shots fired at mall: Northlake Mall was evacuated on Saturday afternoon after reports of shots fired. Police said they “located evidence of a shooting” but did not find anyone who was shot. On Sunday, they arrested a juvenile in connection with the shooting. (Observer)

  • Royally good swimmers: Queens University of Charlotte’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams won NCAA Division II championships on Saturday in Birmingham, Ala. That makes 6 straight national championships. (NCAA)

  • Entering the ‘shark tank’: A Charlotte company that makes thermal capsules for mobile phones will appear on “Shark Tank” on April 2. The CEO of Phoozy said in a news release that appearing on the entrepreneurial pitch show was “one of the most intense experiences of my life.”

  • Spring break in Charlotte: Mecklenburg County’s health department issued a non-binding “travel advisory” urging residents not to travel for spring break. For those who “must travel,” the health department recommends getting fully vaccinated and getting tested before and after the trip. Last month, health officials worried that Super Bowl parties could be “super spreader events,” but since then, the average number of Covid cases per day in Mecklenburg County has plunged by 65%, and hospitalizations are down 60%. (Observer)

  • Pregnant council member takes vaccine: Charlotte City Council member Dimple Ajmera, who is pregnant with her first child, said she decided to take the Covid vaccine after she and her husband researched the issue and talked to her OB/GYN. “I’ve spent last six months in anxiety and fear of contracting the virus and passing it on to our baby,” she said on Twitter. “But this vaccine gives me so much hope.” Pregnant women have struggled with the decision on taking the vaccine because there is less research on its effects than on the overall population.

  • Tax deadline extended: North Carolina’s Department of Revenue has pushed back the due date for state tax returns until May 17, to fall in line with the federal government’s new deadline announced last week. (WFAE/AP)

  • Covid-sniffing dogs deployed to NASCAR: Two Belgian Malinois breed dogs were on hand to sniff about 1,000 competitors and pit crew members for about 20 seconds each at NASCAR’s Cup Series race on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The dogs had been trained to detect a scent associated with Covid, a NASCAR official said. (WFAE)

Covid coverage: 1 year ago in The Ledger

From “Behind Charlotte’s run on toilet paper: Pre-dawn stampede to Aisle 9 at SouthPark Harris Teeter in search of Mega rolls of Charmin,” March 21, 2020:

Promptly at 7, a store employee unlocked one of the entrances with a cheery, “Good morning, everybody!” Around the corner, before a second door could be unlocked, somebody in the crowd grumbled, “Open the door, already.”

Then, the rush was on. Many shelves on Aisle 9 were empty — but there were several dozen packs of toilet paper. The crowd converged. Some grabbed the big packs and headed to the registers; others continued shopping. A gray-haired man with a black jacket and jeans emerged first from the masses, with a cart heaped with six 16-roll packages of Charmin, Mega-size. At the register, told of sales limits, he seemed bewildered: “I can only buy three?”

In an interview, he declined to give his name but said at home, he’s down to two rolls: “It’s an emergency.”

At 7:10, a woman in a white sweatshirt snagged one of the last packages of toilet paper. “This is war,” she joked.

Taking stock

Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:

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Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN AdvisoryReporting intern: David Griffith