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Schoenbach, Ice Hockey in Harlem reaching city kids

by Deborah Francisco

The line between work and play is hard to define for Rob Schoenbach, who is both a head coach for Ice Hockey in Harlem and a public-school teacher at P.S. 28-M, located in central Harlem.

On weekdays, Schoenbach can be found in his science classroom teaching children in grades 3-5 everything from photosynthesis to the makeup of atoms. But on Monday nights throughout the winter, he can be found at Central Park's Lasker Rink, reviewing everything from hockey posture to the offside rule.

"As a teacher it's a neat experience to have my kids calling me coach instead of Mr. Schoenbach," Schoenbach told "It was an easy thing to fall into. I was always skating and coaching three or four times a week after moving into the city. I don't think I could ever give that up even if I wanted to."

Rob Schoenbach's passion for the game inspires many of his students to get involved in Ice Hockey in Harlem, which allows low-income families from Harlem and Washington Heights to play the game of hockey.

Schoenbach has been a volunteer coach with IHIH for 13 years, nearly as long as he has been teaching in New York City's public schools. His passion for the game inspires many of his students to get involved in Ice Hockey in Harlem, which allows low-income families from Harlem and Washington Heights to play the game of hockey.

Ice Hockey in Harlem was founded in 1987 and has since become a cornerstone in the diversity hockey community, giving more than 300 inner-city children the chance to play hockey each winter. In the summer months, IHIH sends as many kids as possible to hockey camps in Canada and New York City. Schoenbach is one of the many volunteer coaches who keep the program running each year. As a head coach, he organizes the assistant coaches and plans and runs one on-ice practice each week, as well as games on the weekend. In the spring he runs a team in the Chelsea Piers spring house league, and in the summer he runs a weekend clinic where children get the chance to go hiking outside of the city.

"It's been a neat and complete experience," Schoenbach said. "My last public school memories were high school hockey where you walked around school and saw your coach and that was always a neat relationship as a kid.


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"We only practice for an hour and a half each week, but I can tell you, because I'm on the ground at their school, these kids are thinking about it seven days a week."

On top of Schoenbach's coaching efforts he also runs a weekly hockey class after school where kids from his team come to his class and learn about the history of hockey as well as other educational components. After all, Ice Hockey in Harlem's motto is "Education is the Goal."

"We're trying to also create a bigger scope for the kids themselves," Schoenbach said. "They get to socialize and have the experience of being on a team, and the team isn't just at the rink or in the locker room -- we're creating a community. … Oftentimes we are introducing them to a new sport that's new to them and typically new to their family, and beyond that, new to their family history. It's great to see them excel in it."

Dedicating so many hours to the children and families involved in Schoenbach's school and on his team also has included many rewarding moments. One such moment occurred last summer during the summer clinic he organized in Monsey, N.Y. A local reporter came out to speak with the children and asked one young woman who her favorite hockey player is. The girl responded, "Tony Chestnut." The reporter was baffled by the answer because "Tony Chestnut" is not a hockey player; rather he's a teaching tool Schoenbach uses to help the kids remember proper hockey posture. It reminds the kids to line up their toes, knees, chest and head to achieve a proper stance. Schoenbach was pleased with the answer because it was a reminder that the children remember what he's teaching them.

"To see the kids pursuing hockey on their own, even though I got them started, to see them continuing on after, is a good feeling," Schoenbach said. "Seeing the kids develop in both arenas has been rewarding."

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