In almost every game, we see NHL players “give themselves up,” “sell out,” or “take one for the team.” The Metroplex Christian Hockey Association/Integrity Hockey (www.integrityhockey.org) adult league takes that spirit to another level. Former MCHA/IH president Lou Morelli has seen countless examples in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, also known as the Metroplex.
“We all face various difficulties and struggles in our day-to-day lives. We want our teams to promote fellowship and community,” says Morelli, who currently serves on the MCHA/IH board of directors. “It’s not just another beer league. Don’t get me wrong – the house leagues are great here in the Metroplex. Many of our players participate in these leagues and they do a great job in building strong teams. But our league is intentionally a bit different. Our focus is on building fellowship and community not just at the team level but between the teams.”
Morelli talked to USA Hockey about sacrificial giving, hockey growth in the Metroplex and the league’s unique faith-led structure.
USA Hockey: Is there a religious requirement to join your league?
Lou Morelli: To clarify, we are not a “church league.” We’re a Christian-led hockey league that welcomes everyone, regardless of his or her religious affiliations or lack thereof. Atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, etc. – it doesn’t matter. We’re intentionally not associated with any specific church or denomination. We try to stay neutral in that area and focus on sharing Christ’s love with the greater hockey community.
USA Hockey: Do you think the faith-focused approach has helped create a specific culture and niche community?
Lou Morelli: It is odd. People sometimes have an expectation that our league should be perfect and without fault. Not so. We do our best to reinforce the core values of sportsmanship and fairness, but it still is an intense sport and sometimes, in the heat of competition, things happen and it’s easy to lose sight of what is really important. Our hope is, when these incidents occur, our players have the courage to do the right thing. We encourage our players to view the opposing team as fellow human beings, not enemies. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Christ follower or not, the notion of loving your enemies and treating others as you want to be treated are tough concepts to put into action but they are powerful and transformational. Over the years, we have had so many examples of sacrificial-type giving, teams rallying around a player in times of need. Whether it’s facing a family crisis, health issue, lost job, whatever the need, it’s about fellowship and community and people gravitate to that. Every week, most of our teams go through a simple “Game Plan for Life.” Tim Chastain, our director of ministry, puts it together. It’s not a sermon. It’s not preachy. It’s just a practical take on the challenges each of us face and the hope Christ freely offers.
USA Hockey: Your references to sacrificial giving and extended family – isn’t hockey the perfect sport to embody that culture?
Lou Morelli: It is. Hockey players always have each other’s back, and we have that same mentality off the ice. There is a lot of synergy between the sport of hockey and what we do in our ministry. We want to promote fellowship, healthy competition and integrity, on and off the ice. To help facilitate this, at the end of every game, both teams skate through the handshake line and then huddle at center ice for a brief prayer.
USA Hockey: How did the league start?
Lou Morelli: In the early 2000s, one of the local churches ran a large sports outreach program and this started as an offshoot of that program. For many years, Mike Brandt was instrumental in leading and nurturing this organization. We joined together with Kellen Hill and Brian Dickey and eventually formalized the league by establishing bylaws, a board of directors and obtaining our 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit organization. We initially started with one homogenous division of varying skill levels. We now have five managed skill divisions with over 600 adults.
USA Hockey: Are you seeing hockey excitement in the area grow as well?
Lou Morelli: I moved here in 1978 and there wasn’t much hockey to speak of. I remember going to the Dallas Black Hawks (former minor league team) games, but there were not many options for recreational ice hockey. When the Dallas Stars showed up in 1993, it ignited a wildfire. We now have over 20 sheets of ice in the Metroplex.
With regard to our league, we never envisioned that it would grow from four to 36 teams. We now have a director of hockey operations, James Mueller, and a director of administration, Sue Linke, both of whom have been the infrastructure to support this growth. Beyond them, the league is primarily a volunteer-driven organization with 70-plus volunteers.
USA Hockey: Why did your league decide to come on board with USA Hockey?
Lou Morelli: The board of directors discussed and reviewed it for a while. We knew that USA Hockey was a great organization. We have always played by USA Hockey rules and use USA Hockey refs. Although it was slightly more expensive to migrate to USA Hockey, we concluded there was great value being associated with USA Hockey. Our players now enjoy the flexibility of being able to play in any USA Hockey-associated league or tournament. From a risk management standpoint, we felt it was in our players’ and organization’s best interest to be under the USA Hockey umbrella. Kudos to the USA Hockey staff. They made the transition seamless.
USA Hockey: What’s next for the league?
Lou Morelli: We are looking toward the future and to passing the baton to the next group of leaders. There is talk about expanding beyond the Metroplex and going into other regions. We have had many inquiries about forming a youth program. MCHA/IH is in a good place and has a solid foundation of strong leaders that are very passionate about what we do. We want to continue to execute well with what we have. MCHA/IH has always been committed to creating a great on- and off-ice hockey experience. When we look at the success of our league, it’s not measured in wins and losses or even the number of teams. It is measured by the impact that we are having on people’s lives.