Club dives deep for the goal

Photo+by+Lindsey+Eaton%3A+Members+of+the+Marquette+Aquamen+Underwater+Hockey+and+Rugby+Team+dip+and+dive+for+the+hockey+puck+at+their+practice+match+Tuesday+night+in+the+Marquette+Senior+High+School+pool.

Photo by Lindsey Eaton: Members of the Marquette Aquamen Underwater Hockey and Rugby Team dip and dive for the hockey puck at their practice match Tuesday night in the Marquette Senior High School pool.

Jamie Glenn

It’s a crisp fall evening, long after sunset, but the air inside the Marquette Senior High School’s pool room is warm. Inside, the team prepares for their hefty workout ahead. They strap on flippers, numbered swimming caps tight to their ears, snorkeling gear and gloves and take hockey sticks in hand to advance the three-pound hockey puck that awaits them at the bottom of the pool.

The group call themselves the Marquette Aquamen Underwater Hockey and Rugby Team. The team, now in its fifth year at NMU, is one of about 35 active clubs in the United States
participating in snorkeling sports.

Players dive into the depths of the pool to interact in gameplay and then return to the water’s surface to refill on much-needed air. The players start at opposite ends of the pool and rush to the middle for possession of the puck. A point is achieved when the puck enters a goal net at the bottom of the pool. An official match is played with six players against six, in a sequence much like ice hockey.

Steve Kars of Rapid River is the coach of the team. He has participated in the sport for over 28 years. Kars coaches his roughly 30 members to prepare them for the six yearly tournaments, two of which are held locally. The next tournament will be held Dec. 2 at Marquette Senior High School.

“I’ve been playing the sport my whole life, and when I moved to the Rapid River area, there was no underwater hockey, so for about five years I traveled to other tournaments and played with other clubs during that time,” Kars said.

He and a friend decided bringing the sport to Marquette would add something fun to the area for everyone.

“Anybody can play this sport, as long as you’re comfortable in water. We tend to teach a range of people, [even] people that have no snorkeling skills. Our first goal is to teach the safety of our sport and then teach them the snorkeling skill that’s required,” Kars said.

“Once we have the snorkeling skill down, then we introduce the game a little bit—our puck, our stick, our glove, how to position. Each week we build on it.”

The camaraderie in this club runs deep as players splash and poke fun at one another while still remaining conscious and competitive about the game.

“The goal is to teach the sport [and] the safety of our sport, to students so they hopefully continue to play it for the rest of their life or have the opportunity to play it somewhere else after they graduate and take a job somewhere where they can continue to play this crazy sport,” Kars said.

Most players on the team are Northern students. This year’s Aquamen includes many freshman recruits, who Kars hopes continue to play throughout their time at NMU. Being a part of the team gives students the opportunity to make new friends and build camaraderie, while learning a new sport, he said.

Brittany Dimaria, a senior psychology major, has played on the team for three years. She likes that the sport allows her to build lasting friendships with her teammates and the different physical challenges the sport presents.

“It’s a really techincal sport,” Dimaria said. “It doesn’t seem like it, especially from the surface, but if you get down on the bottom, there’s a lot of skill behind the actual physical play.”

She added, “I used to be a swimmer, and this was a great way to get back in the pool and try something new.”

Senior criminal justice major Michael Gorman joined the team only two weeks ago, but he already enjoys learning the new experiences the sport offers.

“It’s just a different workout,” Gorman said. “I didn’t know about underwater hockey at all, so it’s a whole new sport. It gets you more comfortable with the water. I’ve learned a lot, just the basis of the game. Everyone I’ve met so far is really nice and welcoming. It’s just a whole new experience.”

The Marquette Aquamen meet from 8:15 to 10 p.m. every Tuesday at Marquette Senior High School.