APEX - Apex and Green Hope are rivals in most sports, yet this Thursday night game between the two has little hype or pageantry.
There are no cheerleaders. No student sections. No mascots or team logos to be found inside the DreamSports Complex in Apex.
The coaches are all volunteers. Players on the same team wear different colors of mismatching pants.
Welcome to the Carolina Scholastic Hockey League, a nonprofit organization that fields inline hockey teams from area Wake County high schools during the winter and middle schools in the spring.
The co-ed league isn't funded by public school money but by player fees. But unlike otherclub leagues, these players represent their schools in competition.
Without the fanfare of varsity sports, players from 15 Wake County high schools play for school pride every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night.Getting started up
Mark Howard's sons played inline hockey in various youth leagues. But he hoped for something better.
In 2005, Howard and friends Chuck and Cathy Carter started the CSHL with the idea of increasing competitiveness and pride by grouping players by the school they attended.
"We had scholastic hockey that was put together by DreamSports and they were running maybe 8-10 teams at that point," Howard said. "My kids were in the league, and I became interested. This is obviously something that my kids wanted to do, but there was no high school offering provided by either the school system or the state."
In 2007, the CHSL merged with the DreamSports league.
It wasn't easy at first, and it's still not easy to schedule all the games. The higher the interest, the more teams and more games to play. But there's still only a few locations -- DreamSports in Apex, Jellybeans in Raleigh and Jellybeans in Cary -- that can house the games, and renting the space is sometimes difficult.
"We're not necessarily aligned to a facility's business model or mission," Howard said. "That's not to say facilities don't want to rent their floor time, but the times that we need to play games is also starting to become prime time for their own in-house programs.
"It's always, 'Hey can you give me a couple more hours this week?'"Unique set-up
In the CSHL, all teams are not created equal. Neither are sizes of the participating schools' respective talent pools.
Up to 10 players are allowed to play on a team, meaning the schools with the most interest may have several teams.
Apex has three teams -- Apex Black, Apex Gold and Apex White -- as does Green Hope: Green Hope Green, Green Hope Maroon and Green Hope Gold. Cardinal Gibbons, fielding "Green" and "Black" teams, is the only other school with multiple squads.
Organizers split the 20 teams into divisions based on their skill level. Division 1 has the six best teams, while Division 2 has am "A" Division for the next-best seven teams and a "B" Division for the bottom seven.
"During these player tryouts, we have our hockey director, Mike Taft, who is very knowledgeable in inline hockey and is actually very well-known in the southeast for camps and clinics and training, evaluate the players and decide which team they should be on," Cathy Carter said.
The playoffs for each division consists of a double-elimination tournament for each division, which takes just one weekend with games lined up all day long. There's a winner in each division.
In the past, schools from Elizabeth City and Johnston County have participated in the league, but not this year.
Some schools don't have enough players to field a team, like this year's players from Carrboro High. They are treated as "free agents" and assigned to a team who has fewer than the maximum of 10 players.Representing your school
Cary's Tyler Lapp plays baseball. Athens Drive's Matt Liptak is an all-conference soccer player. But outside of these two, most of the CSHL players don't play varsity sports.
This is their only chance to play for their school.
"I'm not really good at any other sports," Green Hope freshman Josh Knapp said. "This is the only way I can represent [my school]."
Rivalries have started lives of their own. Sometimes it's about the name on the front of the jersey, but other times it can go back to when players first picked up the sport -- in youth leagues where teams represented the facilities they played.
"For us [the rival] always been Leesville [Road], but it changes every year because players come and go," Apex senior Tyler Miele said. "It kind of depends on where you play. Here, it's DreamSports, but in Cary it's [Jellybeans] and there's always been tension there."
"It's cool repping the [Apex High] name."
But sometimes the lack of fans can be disheartening to that new-found school pride.
"Only the people who play or close friends of the people who play see it or know about it," Miele said. "That comes from us and the school, because we have to tell the office and they announce it."
The attitude different schools take towards the CSHL varies greatly. Some have allowed CSHL hardware to go in the trophy case. Other's won't even make an announcement or allow flyers.Growing up in the sport
Even if North Carolina's climate isn't conductive to ice hockey, it's rare that a CSHL player is a newcomer to the sport. Most said they've been playing for years in inline or ice hockey youth leagues.
"I've been playing since I was 10," said Miele, who plays for Apex Black in Division I. "If you're playing hockey around here, you've been playing a long time."
Then there's Josh Knapp, who plays for Green Hope Green in Division I. Josh practically grew up in an inline hockey family.
His older brother played the sport, and his older sister Katrina (the CSHL is a co-ed league) did well enough to make the United States' U-18 girls team that won gold this summer.
"Everybody's gotten a lot better since I watched my brother -- that was seven years ago," Josh said.
Inline hockey is a difficult sport to try and pick up, or even suit up for. Equipment for skates, pads, a stick, helmet and mask, gloves, etc. can cost a family upwards of $250.
Hockey in general is picking up as a youth sport in Wake County. A lot of the inline players have or still play ice hockey.
Led by the Carolina Hurricanes' junior Hurricanes program, Cary natives have recently committed to Minnesota for girls hockey, North Dakota for boys hockey and Raleigh's Trevor Owens now plays for the minor league affiliate of the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks.
Those players were the exception, however. "[CHSL players] do it more to enjoy it. You're not going to go anywhere [in the sport]," Miele said. "They like being on different teams, they like playing everyday so this is an option."The league's future
Howard hopes the league continues to grow. But his main wish is for a subsidizer -- something the league hasn't had.
As a non-profit organization, getting a subsidizer would mean added funds for league operation and a tax-write off for the willing company. But so far, no takers.
"I've been surprised. Maybe we're doing it wrong -- but we have very little external support for the league," Howard said. "It has to run completely in a vacuum, basically. We have to track the dollars very closely and it has resulted in an elevation of cost."
When the CSHL started, the playing fee was $80. Now it's $190.
"Costs have been creeping up on us," Howard said. "Without any subsidy, we have to pass that charge along to the players, and that's not what we wanted to do."
Howard's stepped out of the action, becoming less involved now save for some website updates. Chuck and Cathy Carter, whose sons played in the CSHL while at Athens Drive, have taken the reins and don't plan on letting go.
"We're now doing this without a child involved in it," Cathy Carter said. "It's something that we feel very strongly about - kids having an opportunity to play. We're committed to keeping it going."
Find out more about CSHL at http:// cshl.us