Heres what you have to do when youre trying to make something from nothing: you have to have the pluck of a guy named Fred Shrayber. And you have to believe in that nothing so passionately you would be willing to do just about anything to actually make it something. And so it was perfectly within reason for Shrayber, now a senior philosophy and business major, to perhaps, well, violate a little bit of journalism ethics not so long ago. See, in the April 12 edition of the The Pitt News, there was a big splashy articlepictures, lots of little black letterswritten by a staff writer named Fred Shrayber. He has one beat, and one beat only: Pitt roller hockey.
Shrayber, it turns out, is also the founder of the team.
Therein lies the teeny ethical quandary that would keep a journalism prof up at night. Shraybers theory? I just wanted to write about a bunch of dedicated guys, he says. Writing it myself was the best way to go. Dedicated guys who had just gone several miles from nothing to something. That is, a bunch of guys on a club teamclub team meaning they all pile into players cars to get to games; no chartered planes, thanksthat cobbled their collective selves together and somehow made it to the Elite Eight of their conference championships. But Pitt fell 7-3 to Lindenwood University. The Missouri school eventually became the national runner-up in the Collegiate Roller Hockey League.
Shraybers story was a fairly important message to get out, to be sure, but not nearly as crucial as some of the first messages, which began a few years ago, ones that Shrayber posted in dorms, at bus stops, wherever it occurred to him that the various messageswhich collectively added up to Come Out for the Pitt Roller Hockey Teammight get adequate attention. And before he knew it, there were 50 people who showed up for the first meeting.
They came from all over the campus: business majors, engineering majors, the sciences were represented, you name it. Students go to meetings in college for all sorts of reasons, whether its for extra credit, or to please a professor, to find a date, or maybe just because they felt like it. The guys who showed up for Shraybers meeting came because they wanted to play roller hockey.
And then the team was off. Eventually Pete Bartolomeo came aboard, as did Eric Rubin and Ryan DeMarco. Bartolomeo, a senior engineering major, joined up to continue his passion for the game he began playing on tennis courts as a kid back home in Maryland. Rubin, a junior in finance, doesnt remember when he started playing, except he knows he was little. DeMarco, a junior history major, was 10. We played on any blacktop we could find, old style, he said. You just played all day. Dawn until dusk, until you couldnt see the puck anymore.
Roller hockey is that kind of game, one where only someone turning out the lights at night stops the passion. Whats addictive about it is not altogether synonymous with what gets players excited about ice. Roller hockey is different from ice hockey. Listen
DeMarco: This game doesnt stop. Its not as slow as regular hockey. There is never a dull moment going on.
Bartolomeo: In ice hockey, theres a lot of dumping and chasing the puck. Theres no offsides in roller hockey. Its a much more controlled style of play. Theres no checking in roller hockey, but youre still allowed to get a little rough. You play the body, but you cant put them into the boards.
Rubin: The stakes arent as high, either, as a regular college team. Were not watched by as many people. Sometimes we have 20 people show up and thats it.
There are no scholarships for Bartolomeo, Rubin, DeMarco, and Shrayber. There are no tutors to help them catch up on work if they have to miss class for games. Theres no meal money. They dont complain. For instance, as uncomfortable as it may have been, nobody truly piped up when the team left a rare flight in April to California for the conference tournament only to find that the vans they had rented were not vans. What did they have? Dodge Intrepids. And so for an hour ride to the hotel, the team piled into the sedans, sitting on each others laps, with one guy lying across those in the back seat. It was, as Rubin put it, unbearable.
This year, of course, they hope to make it to the Elite Eight and win. Neither Bartolomeo, nor Rubin, nor DeMarco is saying anything more than that, but you get the sense that they have bigger plans even still. Though they arent necessarily out to make their sport Division Inowhere does it have such status around the countrythey do want to increase awareness of the team. Theyd also like to hire a coach, one who can take them beyond the Elite Eightinto the Final Four, to a championship. And dont worry about Shrayber, by the way. Hell be skating too; hes letting other people run the team. He also hopes someone else picks up the Pitt roller hockey beat and discovers what he already knows: this team is big news.
Michael Rosenwald is a staff writer for the Boston Globe.