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MYHA to celebrate 40th anniversary
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MONROE - When Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run to break Babe Ruth's record in 1974, Monroe's Paul Schoenike as a baseball fan wasn't glued to his television.

On April 8, 1974, when Aaron became the new home run king, Schoenike was in a city meeting in Monroe listening to the game on the radio preparing to sign bylaws to start the Monroe Youth Hockey Association, Inc. Now, as baseball diehards cherish the 40th year of Aaron's home run accomplishment, others are celebrating the historic start of the hockey association in Monroe. The MYHA will host a 40th anniversary celebration from 5 p.m. Saturday, April 12 to 2 a.m. Sunday, April 13 at the StateLine Ice and Community Expo.

"We listened to the game on the radio and put it in the minutes when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run," said Schoenike, who coached hockey for about 18 years before SLICE.

Schoenike, 74, won't miss a chance to celebrate hockey and the start of the hockey association Saturday.

"Wild horses couldn't keep me away," he said. "This has been a love of mine."

There will be three bands playing. The event is free and open to the public. There will be food and beer for sale.

"We wanted to play more than pond hockey," said Gottlieb Brandli Jr., a director on the MYHA board for 14 years and a hockey coach for 19 years.

Brandli Jr. was one of the first players to go through the hockey program from Mites all the way to a club high school team.

"Hockey has a bright future in Monroe," he said.

Each band includes hockey alumni, current players or parents of current players. The bands scheduled to play include the Birddog Blues Band, which features former players Garrett Wartenweiler and Derek Hendrickson. The Mary J. Harris Swing Band will play and the Gansherts Band will play. The Gansherts Band includes Cammi Ganshert on the electric guitar and keyboard, her brother Joe Ganshert and uncle Mike Ganshert on bag pipes.

There have been many venues for hockey games across town. In the 1960s, hockey pick-up games were organized at the city rink at 16th Avenue and 15th Street. Snow chunks served as goals. In the 1970s, the city with a need for more ice time and space, offered to make the pond "Lake Francis" available including a warming area. Boards were added with funds from Monroe Jaycees Snowmobile Derbies.

"The hockey program started out of my car," Schoenike said. "Most of the kids skating there (SLICE) now and the parents probably don't know everything that we went through."

Many coaches were taking players to practice in their cars. Schoenike said the hockey organization was needed to protect coaches from potential insurance claims in case of an accident and to help develop a traveling team.

"We needed some kind of organization to help defray the load of the insurance," Schoenike said.

In the mid 1970s, a local rink was built on land near Monroe High School. There was still a need for more ice time and space. Rental of indoor rinks was expensive. The fourth venue was in Twining Park in 1984. The rink was built as a shallow pond and the boards were rebuilt and placed in the ice after the ice was set to combat the thaw that occurred with a midday higher sun. However, all of the rinks were dependent on weather. It's now used as sand volleyball courts at Twining Park.

"If it was a warm November or December, you were not skating," Schoenike said. "It's hard to have a traveling team when you don't have ice to skate."

Dr. Tom Ganshert helped spearhead a nonprofit group, Forum Inc., which was launched in 1995 as a 501(c)3 organization. Brandli said its purpose was to develop and manage a multipurpose facility to house artificial ice six months a year and provide dry floor space the other six months of the year. In 1996, MYHA pledged $115,000 towards the facility. Through capital donations and loans, SLICE was constructed and hosted the first indoor hockey game Dec. 17, 1999.

"As kids we didn't think it would take that long to get indoor ice," Brandli Jr. said. "Once we had the SLICE, we saw the talent pool increase with more ice time. We were not relying on the weather to get practices in."

Three years ago, the Monroe School District added boys hockey as a co-op WIAA sanctioned sport. The Avalanche completed their second year this winter. There are four former Monroe hockey players playing semi-pro hockey with the Madison Blues including Drew Nafzger, Matt Bush, Gottlieb Brandli III, Brandon Mortimer and Crae Riese is playing for the Eagle River Falcons. Monroe has had three players make WAHA Cup teams and three have moved on to play junior hockey.

"I think it has been a gradual performance of kids getting better," Brandli Jr. said. "It really started with the USA hockey program. It was so much more advanced than the soccer program leagues. Coaches had to take classes to give knowledge to players. It's a trickle down effect of how we learned to play."