WHEELING - Although the Regional Economic Development Partnership and the leaders of the Wheeling Amateur Hockey Association will officially operate the Wheeling Nailers next season, former player and WAHA President Tim Roberts was quick to point out the real owners Tuesday.
As he took the podium to announce the partnership, he was flanked by more than 100 local youth hockey players who will directly benefit from the team staying in Wheeling.
Roberts said the future of WAHA was an important aspect of the decision to take over the Nailers.
Photo by Scott McCloskey
Tim Roberts, president of the Wheeling Amateur Hockey Association, is flanked by several youth hockey players Tuesday at WesBanco Arena for the announcement that the Wheeling Nailers will remain in the city under new ownership.
"This not only allows us to keep the Nailers in Wheeling, but it allows us to keep this sheet of ice at WesBanco Arena to serve kids all the way through high school and college," he said. "This deal is an homage to the dedication over the years to keep one of the longest-standing hockey programs in the country running."
The WAHA program was started in 1964 by Bob Otten and has steadily grown into the organization it is today, with more than 700 players from across the tri-state area taking the ice this season. He said WAHA, coupled with the Nailers, has changed the culture of sports in the Ohio Valley while working on its mission to promote and teach hockey.
"Everyone grows up playing Little League baseball, but not a lot play hockey," he said. "At this point, we have three generations of families who are able to watch a hockey game. Kids who I used to sign autographs for when I was with the team are in their 20s and 30s now, and that's been a fun change to watch."
Roberts said over the years, funds have been set aside to construct a new hockey facility. While those funds were used to help purchase the Nailers, Roberts was quick to mention that keeping the Nailers and the ice at WesBanco Arena is a great deal for the association.
"We had been keeping a small war chest of money to build a rink, but frankly that war chest was small enough that I would have to live to be about 200 to be able to build a rink," he said. "This allows us to keep this sheet of ice for you to play on."
Roberts stressed that while WAHA, a nonprofit, would be taking over the team, the focus will remain on promoting the game of hockey and providing youth an opportunity to participate.
"Our fees are not increasing, and compared to Pittsburgh and other places we're dirt cheap," he said. The youth are "not paying more to do this, and really they were going to be losing out if we didn't.