Mediation to resolve youth hockey dispute at Sportsplex

Youth hockey, adult recreational leagues, and college programs have boomed in the area. High demand for ice time has created friction at the one rink in Orange County, the Sportsplex in Hillsborough. Credit: April Walker on Unsplash.

SPORTS; COMMUNITY NEWS

by Gregory DL Morris
Columnist/Correspondent

March 28, 2024

At press time, The Local Reporter learned that the two parties, increasingly at odds over the future of the youth hockey programs at the Orange County Sportsplex in Hillsborough, have agreed to mediation in which county officials will participate.

Differences have become bitter between Recreation Factory Partners (RFP), the firm under contract to the county to operate the Sportsplex, and Triangle Youth Hockey of North Carolina (TYHNC), known as the Hillsborough Hogs (the name its team uses).

“We had a regular meeting with Travis Myren, deputy county manager, earlier this week and this issue came up,” John Stock, chief executive officer of RFP and of the Sportsplex, told TLR. “We proposed mediation, and he graciously offered to facilitate with the county, providing a professional mediator they have successfully used in the past on other matters. TYHNC has agreed to participate and it is scheduled for next week. We are hopeful.”

The core issue is the booming demand for ice time by youth and adult programs, which all parties agree is a good problem to have. However, while there are multiple skating facilities in Durham and Wake counties (several of them with two ice surfaces), the single sheet at SportsPlex is the only one in Orange County.

In addition to the Hogs, Sportsplex is the practice and game rink for UNC and several other college hockey programs, as well as figure skating programs and public skating. UNC Hockey Boosters are actively planning their own arena, but it will not be open until a couple of years later.

https://thelocalreporter.press/unc-mens-hockey-plans-arena-at-carraway-village/

TYHNC is a non-profit established in 1980 at the Daniel Boone rink in Hillsborough. In 1995, the Sportsplex was built nearby, and it had just a single rink. Youth and recreational hockey blossomed in the area when the Hartford Whalers became the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997. Nine years later, the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup as champions of the National Hockey League, giving the sport a huge boost across the region.

RFP developed and managed several of the rinks in the area, many of which are now owned or managed by American Sports Entertainment, a national firm doing business in North Carolina as Polar Ice. In 2005, RFP was contracted to manage Sportsplex.

“RFP has provided professional management services to the Sportsplex for the past 19 years, growing its customer base and expanding its offerings,” Myren told TLR. The facility attracts more than 600,000 visitors annually and generates an operational surplus almost every year that is used to repair and upgrade it.

“The county has not considered adding a second rink at the Sportsplex or getting involved with the UNC arena,” Myren added. The Sportsplex is the only local-government-owned ice skating facility in the region if not the entire state. The other rinks in Raleigh/Cary are either owned by Polar or rented to Polar from private developers.”

According to Tom Deis, president, and scheduler, TYHNC had 130 to 140 registered players ages 5 through 18 in the years before the pandemic. This season, Hogs have 178 players on 10 teams ranging from age 10 and under to 18U and three to four teams in the 6U and 8U groups. Youth of all genders are welcome on all teams. The teams are officially a house league but play around the area against teams based at Polar Rinks.

https://www.tyhnc.org/

Noting that the relationship between TYHNC and RFP “has not always been contentious,” Deis explained that a series of proposals and counter-proposals over ice time, program management, and other operational issues became increasingly testy. Things came to a head on March 6 when RFP posted a note on the SportsPlex website that it would not “proceed with TYHNC as the provider of recreational youth hockey.” That note has since been replaced with a two-page Q&A.

https://www.oc-sportsplex.com/

Disclosure: The writer’s son played youth hockey around the area from 2018 through 2021, including teams and programs operated by TYHNC and Polar.

Note: A reader pointed out the error in using arbitration instead of mediation and it has been corrected.


Gregory DL Morris is a business journalist and historian who reports regularly for TLR.

This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocalReporter.press

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