Paul Weber – Ode to the Bleacher Creatures – 2023-2024 Essay

An Ode to my Fellow Bleacher Creatures by Paul Weber

I’ve always been tempted by these essay submissions, mostly as a way to contribute to a league that has already given me so much. But, I hesitated for years because, in a way, I felt like I didn’t have this ‘rising from the ashes’ story about my entry into gay hockey that warrants an essay. Maybe something that might warrant an Oscar nod in the ‘made for movies’ remake of my life. 

Nope – you’re not getting that here. 

My beginnings with the league started pretty simple. Following a cute boy around that I recently started dating, he invited me to join him on a Sunday night to watch a round of games at Hartmeyer arena. As I walked into the unassuming ice rink, I was greeted by that ‘smell.’ It’s not hockey sweat. It’s not concession stand popcorn. No, it’s Zamboni exhaust. Super healthy to inhale, I’m sure – yet high-inducing every time. As I later came to realize – it’s a smell that tells me that Sunday afternoon is here.

As I watched the players skate that day, I realized two things: 

  1. Dang, were hockey players hot (duh). 
  2. Wow. He’s giving a LOT of space to some of the slower players on the other team. Players that I know he could easily skate circles around. Why? Take that puck! Score that basket! (or something like that)

It was absolutely incredible to see, and EVERYONE was doing it. Giving newer players space. While I hadn’t spent much time in ice rinks before (see aforementioned smell observation) – I knew that this league was different. 

As we started to get more serious, I found myself chasing this boy around the rink more and more. See paragraph 4, part a. This time, often accompanied by drinks and baked goods. I quickly realized that making friends in the rink was really easy with this group of people, and sharing wine and cupcakes only increased my odds of chatting it up with a fellow ‘bleacher creature,’ as I termed us (hockey husbands/wives/partners worked, too!). 

Not surprisingly, after spending almost 3 years as a bleacher creature myself – my fellow hockey creatures started to encourage me, more and more, to play in the league myself. It looked fun. It looked expensive. But it mostly looked fun. 

Oddly enough, I got my start officially on the ice playing broomball in a Madison Sports + Social club league. While I absolutely hated the sport (mostly because I felt completely out of control on the ice), it was basically the perfect gateway into hockey. By playing broomball, I needed a helmet, shin guards, elbow pads, and more – so hockey only followed naturally when I picked up my first pair of skates. It was all too easy at that point to sign up for my first season.

The rest, as they say, is history – and through several seasons on the rink, some captaining experience, and endless Sundays spent whipping up new sweets for my teammates and random passersby – I can say I’ve never looked back. 

As a person who generally has an outright aversion to sports (mostly because I was horrible at them) – I would have never joined a league where ‘winning is king’ or several showboats on the league end up taking the recognition home every night. 

No cute boy is worth joining a league for that. 😀

No – what I found with the MGHA was a family first. And for the first 3 years on those bleachers – that’s exactly the type of non-skater family that I found. A family that cared about my week, what I was up to at work, and was willing to chat about it over a cupcake and a glass of Merlot. That community that I found as a bleacher creature, more than anything, showed me that this is way more than a hockey league. And that, more than the sport, is what continues to be so important to me about the MGHA. 

It’s a cupcake-eating, care about you as a human being, hugs in the hallway, and high fives for that promotion at work kind of league. And that, my fellow hockey friends, is a family that’s totally worth spending your Sunday afternoons with!