Gene Zadzilka – 2017-2018 Essay

I’ll be honest, initially it was 95% about the hockey. I started skating at 22 with the UW Comp Sci group (thanks, David Parter) and loved it. Soon afterwards, I left Madison, joined a “beginner’s non-checking” league, and came to think that hockey wasn’t for me after all. Keeping score and standings makes it just aggressive enough that it wasn’t fun.

Thankfully, I returned to Madison and joined assorted fun pick-up groups over the years. Hockey was fun once more, I avoided leagues, and decided that a life goal should be to play hockey, in some capacity, until I’m 70.

MGHA needed another goalie, and multiple friends recommended that I ask to join. I had enough friends and hockey contemporaries in the league and playing in the Classic that I suspected it would be my kind of hockey fun, and I was accepted for the ‘17-18 season. On the hockey side of things, it was more than I could have hoped for. The whole league is set up to be one giant collection of league-mates first, teammates second. It was extremely beginner-friendly, so I could be useful in helping noobs (I’ve experienced beginner-friendly groups turn more advanced, and that always comes with a sense of loss), just as I was helped. Games were quite intense for me, but the pressure was just internal – it was OK for me to laugh at my own mistakes, and it was wonderful to have like-minded teammates looking to extract fun from hockey. Hockey-wise, MGHA was already a great fit for me. Would recommend, could end story here.

What I did not expect is how much more MGHA would be on an interpersonal level. It’s difficult to put into words, but there’s an inherent closeness to the group that took me by surprise, caught me up in it, and humbled me to be accepted. One day, in casual conversation, a couple of out stories were shared. That’s when it struck me. Straight folk don’t tend to hear such experiences unless it’s someone close or extroverted. I immediately felt a stronger friendship for having been shared with, but it also illustrated the divide to me. These are major life moments, so why wouldn’t I have heard more from other friends and family over the years? That’s when I began to appreciate the “where you can be yourself” facet of the MGHA way, and started to comprehend how much more meaningful it can be, beyond just a great place to play hockey.

Frankly, it bothers me that the world needs more acceptance and suppresses anyone from being themselves. Society should be better. But that’s the world we live in. If I can learn and grow personally, and share my positive experiences to improve this situation a bit, I’ll leave the world a tad better for my kids, who will hopefully continue that attitude.

So, I revise a previous life goal. I would like to play hockey, in some capacity, with the MGHA until I’m 70.