#ACTIVE
Hockey and Ice Skating

December 4, 2019

Written by Rachel McCoy | Photography by Emily Baumann and submitted by Jeaneen Boyer

CHARACTER TRAIT: Active

DEFINITION: Engaging or ready to engage in physically energetic pursuits.

Question: What’s played on ice all fall, winter and spring in St. Joseph, but repeatedly called super warm?

Answer: Ice hockey, ice skating and ice curling, part of the Bode Ice Arena local tradition. It’s true, the ice is cold. And so are the early morning and evening winter practices. But to the students and families who participate, it’s a very warm, inviting “family” that enriches their lives and inspires their character – while they also get stronger and have a great time doing it.

Opened in 1975 as a state-of-the-art ice and recreation complex, George Bode Ice Arena, now also called Bode Sports Complex, has opened its doors to thousands of skaters and hockey players across the decades. The age span of Bode sports-goers includes those who are barely old enough to walk through senior adults. With 30,000 square feet of space, including locker rooms, bleachers and a concessions area, Bode Ice Arena is a unique and flexible recreational amenity. Lessons, competition skating, performances, group events, hockey and public skating fill the calendar for most of the year.

“The focus really is on family. It’s about family and promoting recreational activities together,” says Christine Feuerbacher, Program Coordinator, Bode Sports Complex. “This is a caring and safe environment that continues to grow because kids, and adults, can come and know they belong. Kindness radiates, and we love to support and love our community, always welcoming new people into our family,” she adds.

This family includes a few known names who have glided across the ice at Bode, including figure skater Ryan Bradley, a 2011 U.S. national champion and three-time U.S. collegiate champion. Hockey players Jason Lawson and Taylor Kennedy also took their passion to the next level. With the ice as the shining center, activities at Bode Sports Complex have expanded to allow an even wider range of participants, including skating lessons for individuals with special needs. Feuerbacher explains Bode has accommodations for every level, including lessons for Special Olympics every fall.

Curling is another recent addition, which is the ice-based version of shuffleboard made popular by the Winter Olympics. The curling league meets on Tuesday evenings and is open to everyone, in both a spring and a fall club session.

“A family can walk in having never set foot on the ice and have fun together. We have a lot to offer, like several learn-to-skate programs, community events and public sessions,” she says. “And it’s not just ice. The entire Bode recreational complex has been expanding, including new pickle ball courts and several public basketball courts, all next to the Rec center and the Parkway trails. This is a great resource in St. Joseph where everyone’s welcome.”

Hockey, Anyone? We Do Mean Anyone

For those whose passion comes in the colder form, the St. Joseph Griffon hockey league and St. Joseph Figure Skating Club continue to gain popularity and enthusiasm. The St. Joseph Griffons Hockey league was founded in 1976 and is part of the St. Joseph Youth Hockey Association, calling Bode Ice Arena home. The experience begins with Learn to Hockey Skate classes, followed by Learn to Play Hockey, and then teams for youth begin at age 8 and span through high school. (There’s also an adult league).

Creating a safe and fun hockey experience based around fundamentals is the goal, and the St. Joseph Youth Hockey Association offers certified coaching staff. The organization is also a part of USA Hockey, and the high school team is a member of the Kansas City Metro Hockey Association. This means competition spans the KC-Metro area. Sign-ups begin online in late August with practices beginning late September, and the season runs through February. Practices are open to the public to watch, and admission is free to all home and away games.

Two evenings a week, from late fall and across the winter, Cooper Tabor is heading to the rink as part of the St. Joseph Griffons hockey team. Like many area youth, he’s balancing home and school activities, but loving every minute of it. “Playing hockey is a lot of work, but so much fun. I love the friends that I have made through hockey. Being at the ice arena is like being around a big family, and everyone knows everyone by name,” he says.

Cooper’s dad, Matt Tabor, says hockey has been great both physically and socially. “The coaches do a great job with all the youth and are so supportive. Being part of hockey in St. Joseph has helped my son both on and off the ice.”

Tabor adds that anyone with interest should give hockey in St. Joseph a try. “It’s competitive. It’s a tough game. But lessons like discipline and work ethic learned in this sport will translate to other parts of a young person’s life in a positive manner. Bode Ice Arena is truly a tight knit group of people. Everyone has each other’s best interests at heart.”

Bode Ice Arena has a supply room of youth gear that can be loaned to youth players, and offers a Try Hockey for Free afternoon session a few times a year for area youth to try the sport. “As long as you can stand on skates, you can get out there on the ice,” says Tabor. “It’s a great resource in our city.”

Hey Everybody…Let’s Skate

Nearly every morning in the fall, winter or spring, several other local youth are eagerly getting ready before the sun is up. They’ll lace their skates to get out there on the ice as part of the St. Joseph Figure Skating Club.

The St. Joseph Figure Skating Club, a competitive skating club, also calls Bode Ice Arena home. The club is a regional competitor and hosts the Pony Express Figure Skating Championships every September. In an inspiring collection of lights, music, creativity and sheer talent, the club hosts a spring show and a Christmas show featuring several area figure skaters each year. At least five days a week, freestyle figure skating sessions and lessons are under way, mixed in and around several weekly public skating sessions.

Ali Boyer has spent many hours growing up on the ice as a competitive figure skater. She says skating in St. Joseph is unique because of the atmosphere. “One thing’s for sure, no other rink I have skated at has compared to Bode Ice Arena. It’s a place where you can walk through the doors and just feel the love from everyone. There’s always a smile to greet you,” she says. “It’s somewhere I call my second home.”

There are hours of dedication and hard work, including early mornings and evenings, but it’s worth it, she adds.

“The skating rink isn’t just a place for skating. It is a place where you can be you and make friendships that will last a lifetime. I don’t always come to the rink to skate. Sometimes I just go so I can see the people that make me smile. It’s so much more than a place to learn and have a great time.”

Ali’s mom, Jeaneen Boyer, echoes that feeling. “I believe the difference we experience in St. Joseph is the feeling of family. The employees at Bode Ice Arena go above and beyond to accommodate all four skating groups – the St. Joseph Figure Skating Club, Griffon Gliders Synchronized Skating, the St. Joseph Youth Hockey Association and the St. Joseph Curling Team.”

Boyer says she sees an investment in area skaters that’s hard to find. “Through learn to skate programs or learn to play hockey, the team at Bode becomes familiar with the kids to make sure they feel welcomed and wanted at the rink, right from the start.”

The Boyer family has been hooked on skating since Ali was seven years old and visited Bode Ice Arena on a school field trip. “After that day, all I have wanted to do is skate. Joining the St. Joseph Figure Skating club led me on a great journey for my skating life. I joined the Griffon Gliders team, a synchronized skating team that I’ve been part of for six years. These are people that will always have a huge part in my life. The bond we have is unbelievable,” she says.

Ali is enthusiastic about all the aspects of skating in St. Joseph, and especially her work teaching through the Special Olympics program, with lessons beginning every November. “This is one of my all-time favorite things to do,” says Ali. “Each and every one of the students makes my day 100 times better. They always find a way to laugh or smile and they never give up on anything, even if it is challenging they push through. They make me so proud when it comes time to compete at the end of January, and I love each and every one of these skaters with my whole heart.”

Mrs. Boyer adds that skating, and all the Bode programs, require persistence, time management, self-discipline and grit. “I am continually amazed at the commitment and athleticism it requires. I have also enjoyed seeing that a skater doesn’t have to be headed to the Olympics to make it a worthwhile sport. They learn critical life lessons every day.” Across skating, hockey and every other winter ice activity, there’s a definite spark for participants that spreads like wildfire. “Every time I step onto the ice, I feel like I am where I’m supposed to be and I can be who I am. It’s s where time freezes and there are no worries in the world. Skating becomes a part of you when you step onto that ice, whether it’s for fun or as a sport. I am so thankful to have our skating rink, because it has made a huge impact on my life and shaped me to be the person I have become.”

Now what could be warmer than that? See you on the ice.

Side note: Meet George. George Bode Jr. was born in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1868. He attended school through his eighth-grade graduation at the old German English School located at 10th and Felix Street. George then entered Chapman Business College 6th and Edmond and found his true talent in banking. When he died in May of 1955, it was discovered that he left his entire estate to the citizens of St. Joseph, to be used toward recreation-related activities. Bode Ice Arena and Bode Sports Complex are two examples of his generosity.

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