SAHL and its 600 men and women all about community, camaraderie and charity
Eric Scaife and his family had just moved into the new subdivision in what was the south end of Stouffville in 1978 and the young dad was looking to play some hockey.
Their split-level on Thicketwood Boulevard was conveniently in the shadows of the old Stouffville Arena in Memorial Park.
But there was a problem.
“There was no men’s hockey and there was no ice time available,” recalls Eric, now 78 and living in London, ON. “Between youth hockey and figure skating they were full. Even in the evenings.”
Whitchurch-Stouffville’s population was less than 12,000 back then, including about 6,000 in Stouffville proper.
So Eric and some of his neighbours – Steve Upton, John Blair and John Miron – in those new homes along Booth Drive and Stuart Street did something about it.
They rented two hours at Centre Ice Arena in North York, placed a notice in the Stouffville Tribune, posted a flyer in the fish and chips shop. acquired some sponsors and began forming what would become the Stouffville Amateur Hockey League.
Registration, held in the Scaifes’ garage, yielded just enough players to ice four teams for that 1978-79 season.
From those humble beginnings, the SAHL now boasts 600 players, in six divisions. Some women’s teams play year-round. It’s become a community institution.
But it wasn’t always that way.
“We made such a fuss in the town that we weren’t very well-liked at the time, I’m afraid,” Scaife remembers with a laugh.
But delegations to the town council and the arena board paid off in 1980 when the town granted ice in Stouffville to the league – at the ever-popular hours of 7 to 9 a.m. every Sunday.
“But the camaraderie between the players was just unbelievable right from the beginning,” Scaife said. “It was quite a thing,” said Upton, who still lives in Stouffville. “You couldn’t walk through town without running into someone you knew from hockey.”
By 1982, membership had doubled and so had the allocation of ice. “Once we began playing in Stouffville, it caught on like wildfire,” Scaife says. “We had hundreds of players on a waiting list at one point.” The league would grow again a couple of times near the turn of the century, amalgamating with a local 20-and-over men’s league and a women’s loop.
The opening of three new rink pads paved the way for further expansion. Forty percent of today’s players are female. Sure, there are championship trophies to be handed out and scoring titles to be celebrated.
But talk to SAHL players past and present and you’ll quickly learn this league is much more than a series of hockey games played on Sunday mornings or a weeknight.
“It’s a real community builder,” said current president Rick Evans, a goalie in the league since the late 1990s. “Through hockey, I started meeting all kinds of people from Stouffville who I didn’t know before. It brings a lot of people together to have some fun.”
New teams are drafted every spring, meaning you’re playing with a new group each season. SAHL past president Lynne Harrington grew up a figure skater in Unionville when playing hockey was not an option for girls. She’s one of many women who played their first hockey as adults in the SAHL.
“It was something I always wanted to do,” said Harrington, who has suited up in the SAHL for 15 years. “It was a bit of an adjustment from figure skating but you had all of this equipment on in case you fell.
“The friendships and the camaraderie have been amazing; going to the grocery store and other places and knowing so many people.
“It comes to the love of the sport and the people that you meet. It’s all just for fun even at the competitive level. Nobody really gets caught up in it. When people come to this league they like that aspect over other places they may have played.”
Siblings have played with each other. Same for parents and their children.
And the social aspect is huge, including the spring draft at the Royal Canadian Legion and the always popular year-end celebration held at Markham Fairgrounds in recent years.
So is charity.
Eric Scaife recalls a fundraising 1950s-themed dance at the arena one summer in those early days being so popular police had to be called in for security.
The SAHL was one of the major raisers of funds when the Ninth Line arena was built later in the 1980s. More recently, the league paid for the defibrillator in the rink’s lobby.
The Paddy Madigan co-ed shinny tournament has raised more than $80,00 for people in need since 2008 in the name of the late great league president. It’s now run by Paddy’s three daughters.
A women’s spring tourney has collected $120,000 for Heart and Stroke and $50,000 for the Compassion 365 Foundation over 15 years.
At Christmas, donations have been made to needy families, with players helping sort items.
Eric Scaife attended the SAHL’s 40th-anniversary celebrations and was pleasantly blown away to hear how the once fledgling organization had turned into a mainstay.
“I really hoped from the beginning that someday it would become this,” said Scaife, who designed the SAHL logo that’s still in use, “accommodating every age group, men and women. This league is still really close to my heart.”
LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
The SAHL has been home to several celebrity players since 1978:
- Hockey Hall of Famer Angela James
- Brenda Andress, the first commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League
- NHLers Dennis Owchar (Pittsburgh, Colorado) and Bill Root (Toronto, Philadelphia, Montreal. St. Louis) • Former pros Dan Burrows, Bob McNeil and John Barnett
- Toronto Rock Lacrosse legends Glenn Clark and Jim Veltman
- TSN’s Kate Beirness and Jermain Franklin
- Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek
- York and Ryerson universities coach Graham Wise
- York Region Chairman/CEO Wayne Emmerson.
- Town Councillor Richard Bartley played goal until 2018