This story was published by the Racine Journal Times on January 1st and features one of our families.
You can access the article here.
MOUNT PLEASANT — Robb Ehrhart decided that the best way to share his love of hockey with his kids was to build a backyard ice rink.
Ehrhart’s passion for the sport began in the early 1990s, when he started playing in the Kenosha Komets league. He continued playing until around 1996, when he was 16.
This year, when he finally gave in to his oldest son Riley’s requests to play hockey, Ehrhart’s memories from his time on the ice came flooding back.
“I forgot how much I loved the sport,” he said.
Now Riley, 8, plays with the Wisconsin Jets Youth Hockey Club, and Ehrhart’s younger son, Rhett, 5, is in the “learn to skate” program, both at the Kenosha Ice Arena, 7727 60th Ave., Kenosha. It’s the same arena where their dad played 20 years ago. The Komets organization is a league for kids 9 and older, and the Jets is a club for those 9 and younger.
“It’s been really fun, this past four or five months, getting back to the sport,” Ehrhart said.
Now, the family spends several days a week at the rink and Ehrhart has started coaching.
“Coaching is another aspect of it for me,” he said. “Being able to share the knowledge that you possess about the sport and the intricacies and how to do things the right way. I love, love being able to not only pass that on to these two but to all the other kids that we coach and their parents.”
Ehrhart, who had a pond in his backyard growing up, decided that he and the kids needed a place to practice whenever they pleased.
“I’d always heard about people having backyard rinks,” he said.
Ehrhart’s initial plan was to buy some supplies at Menards and fashion his own rink. But he soon learned it wasn’t quite that simple.
During his research, Ehrhart discovered a business called NiceRink, in Genoa City, that sells anything one might need to build his or her own backyard rink, including kits called “rinks in a box.”
Ehrhart felt the standard 20-by-40-foot rink was not big enough for himself and his two kids to practice on. So he went with a larger size of 72 feet by 45 feet.
He began clearing out the rink area and setting up the frame before Thanksgiving and then laid down the liner and started filling it with water the first weekend in December.
During the process of setting up the rink, Ehrhart learned that having a sloped yard is a common challenge.
The ice in the Ehrharts’ rink is around 4 inches thick at its shallowest and about 10 inches at its deepest.
“Because of the way your yard is shaped and sloped, you’re going to have higher and lower spots, but that’s where the reinforcement of the boards comes in,” he said.
Now that the rink is constructed, maintenance includes keeping it clear of snow, leaf-free and resurfacing it when needed.
Now Rhett wakes Ehrhart and his wife, Rochelle, some mornings, begging to go outside and skate.
“This is as much for me as it is for them,” Ehrhart said. “I have as much fun designing it, building it and maintaining it as I do skating it.”
Riley said he likes being able to practice in his own backyard.
“It’s really cool,” he said.
Ehrhart’s mother, Barb, agreed.
“Just think about how fun this is, to have an ice rink in the back of your yard, for the children to be able to just go right out in their backyard and have their own little ice rink,” she said.
Robb Ehrhart thinks it’s pretty impressive to combine many of the skills it takes for play football, basketball and baseball and then do all of it on skates.
“I love it,” Ehrhart said. “This is the best sport in the world.”
Even after spending 20 years away from hockey, when he came back to the Kenosha Ice Arena, he said it was like he never left. The rink was much the same and the people were encouraging, asking him to join the men’s league even though his skills were a bit rusty.
The Kenosha Blue Line Hockey Club, which owns the Kenosha Ice Arena, along with some of the hockey parents, are working to raise $1.5 million to replace the aging equipment that makes and maintains the ice at the arena. The infrastructure currently in use is around 45 years old.
The fundraising group will host Jets Fest, starting at 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 6 at the arena. The event will include hockey games all day as well as other activities, raffles and food.
“Every dollar that we generate from that event goes straight to repairing the ice,” Ehrhart said.
He said he would love to be a resource to others looking to build their own backyard rinks. Those who want help with rink building or learning about skating and hockey can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To donate toward the rink upgrades visit the GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/save-the-ice-kenosha-ice-arena.