UNIVERSITY PARK — The children may be the future, but on Saturday they were busy playing hockey.
A series of orange rubber balls spent the better part of the morning being batted across the floor of the Pegula Ice Arena, where Garth Brooks’ Teammates for Kids Floor Hockey ProClinic invited 60 community children to come out and let loose.
Each of the young athletes was affiliated with the Centre County Youth Service Bureau and the YMCA of Centre County and were brought together with the hope that they would form bonds as both teammates and friends — and catch a glimpse of Garth Brooks.
“Sports creates bonds and friendships that last a lifetime,” Brooks said.
The singer-songwriter strolled the arena before his two shows Saturday evening at the Bryce Jordan Center, watching as volunteers from the Penn State men’s and women’s hockey teams led the children through stick handling drills.
When it came time for some good old-fashioned physical conditioning, the kids took turns doing sprints. Brooks greeted them at the other end of the line, waving them forward.
“We were very excited to do this,” Andrea Boyles, CEO of the Youth Service Bureau, said.
About 35 children from the bureau came to the arena on Saturday and Boyles said that many of them were keeping an eye out for Brooks, who they knew by name and reputation if not necessarily by face.
They got their chance when the country star brought his young guests together for a mid-clinic huddle. Brooks emphasized the value of having teammates both on the rink and in life.
“You can do some great things but you’re never going to be able to do them alone,” Brooks said.
He led the team in a rally cry of “teammates.” It was a recurring theme that made loud reappearances later while sportsmanship awards were handed out and a group photo was taken.
Brooks said that he enjoys sports in part because they create an instant family.
“Life on this earth is nothing without relationships,” Brooks said.
That includes relationships with the Penn State hockey players who volunteered their time to help coach six teams that were divided into three age groups. Eric Scheid, an offensive player on the men’s team, enjoyed sharing his passion for hockey.
“If one or two of these kids go with a love of the game, it was a success,” Scheid said.
After the group photo was taken, kids were treated to sandwiches that they enjoyed out on the sunny front lawn of the arena with Boyles and a few other adults.
Boyles felt that the event had a tangible effect on the children.
“One boy in particular I rarely see smiling, and I saw him smiling a lot,” Boyles said.