Gazette Article by: Tom Gullen
Appeared in the Gazette: Winter 1996
Since its humble beginnings skating outdoors in the parks of Winnetka, the Winnetka Hockey Club has grown until it now offers programs for over 600 boys and girls aged 5-15. It is widely respected as one of the finest hockey programs in the United States.
Hockey in Winnetka dates back to the late 1930s, when a group of adult and youth players called the Comets played games and practiced at Indian Hill Park. They were replaced by the T&T Maple Leafs, who would skate for five hours a day until manager Wally Stelzel closed the rink at 10:00pm. One of those early players was Hugh Brower, who went on to play at Dartmouth. He also was instrumental in getting the Winnetka Ice Arena built.
In the late 1960s several hockey fathers were determined to bring an indoor ice rink to Winnetka. They included Hugh Brower, Walter McNerney, Ken Fox, and Chuck Lauer. After a community referendum failed, they persuaded the Park Board to raise capital through the sale of revenue bonds. In June, 1972 the Winnetka Ice Arena was opened, and the Winfield Hockey Association was formed. The Winfield name was used to encourage participants from Northfield. The name was later changed to the Winnetka Hockey Club. In the early 1980s the Glencoe Hockey Association merged with Winnetka, and the program now serves Winnetka, Glencoe, Northfield, and Kenilworth.
In the late 1970s, Coach Ted Cappellan, who continues to coach a House League team, helped institute a unique parity system still in use today. It permits players of equal ability to compete against each other. Today, sports such as soccer and basketball also use this system.
While Winnetka had always fielded competitive teams, in the late 1980s the program became one of the most successful in Illinois. It won three state titles in 1988 and over 20 state and league titles in the past six seasons. In 1993 five different teams won state titles, a feat never before achieved and one likely never to be duplicated.
Perhaps it was best said by the late Terry Beacom, a past president of the Winnetka Hockey Club. “The success of this program should be measured by how many kids want to play next year.” Now, grandchildren of its founding fathers will soon have children in the program, which continues to be an important community activity.