Written by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi
Players push and shove their way to the puck, all clamoring for control. A slap shot sends the puck hurling through the crowded mess of players and into the goal. Point.
Exhausted, the players swim to the surface for a gasp of air.
In the game of underwater hockey, the battle for the puck is merely the beginning.
The Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., is the training ground for the future leaders of the service. One of the often overlooked leadership opportunities offered at the academy is in the formation of club sports.
Any cadet at the academy can start a club sport, so when Coast Guard Third Class Cadet Collin Sykes arrived at the academy in 2009, he saw an opportunity to introduce underwater hockey to a new group of individuals – his fellow cadets.
Sykes was introduced to the sport of underwater hockey when he was 3 years old by his father. Later, Sykes formed an underwater hockey team at his high school and found the time to be rewarding both in and out of the pool.
Sykes said his passion for underwater hockey seemed only fitting when he arrived at the academy.
“I figured what better way to get a group of fun people together than to play underwater hockey,” Sykes said. “It wasn’t even an option for me. I can’t live without underwater hockey.”
Putting the leadership skills he’s learning at the academy to use, Sykes rallied together a group of his fellow cadets to form an underwater hockey team. At first, many thought the idea of playing the game was a joke.
“The hardest part about putting the team together was convincing people that it’s a real thing,” Sykes said.
To help convince his fellow cadets, Sykes turned to YouTube and its collection of more than 1,200 underwater hockey videos to showcase the legitimacy of the sport.
Coast Guard Third Class Cadet Vanessa Taylor said, “I had no idea what underwater hockey was until Collin told me about it. We watched some videos, and after that, I wanted to play. It’s something different that not too many people have even heard of.”
Like Taylor, Coast Guard Academy Fourth Class Cadet Toby Raine was also intrigued, but he too had doubts about whether or not the sport was real.
“I was on the rugby team when I first heard about underwater hockey,” Raine said. “I asked Collin if it was a joke when I heard about it. After I started playing, I realized this is probably one of the best sports I could have tried out for.”
After he built his team, Sykes began the process of formalizing underwater hockey as an officially-recognized club sport.
The Competitive Club Sport Program at the academy is designed to offer competitive entertainment and physical enjoyment. The program exists to provide cadets with athletic and leadership opportunities as an alternative to existing Varsity Athletic Sports Programs. Since June 2010, three club sports have been formed, including underwater hockey.
Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. William Nunes is the director of Club Sport Activities and said the process of starting a club sport starts with an idea.
“In order to be recognized, cadets must first have an idea, then garner interest, provide a framework for their sport and draft and submit a charter,” Nunes said.
For Sykes, drafting the charter proved to be the biggest challenge in getting his team formed.
“It wasn’t that hard to put the team together,” Sykes said. “It’s just filling out all the paperwork that was the tough part.”
Once the sport was officially endorsed by the commandant of cadets at the academy, Sykes’ team had the green light to move forward.
After convincing his fellow shipmates and multiple academy officials of the legitimacy of underwater hockey, Sykes was eventually able to introduce underwater hockey to a new group of individuals. Building on the leadership skills he’s learning at the academy, Sykes was able to form a team, rally support from his fellow cadets and get his childhood passion recognized as an official club sport at the academy – many of the skills he will eventually take with him when he graduates and enters the fleet as a U.S. Coast Guard officer.