Today, local sports pages are full of reports of ice hockey games at all levels, but not many years ago, that sport was the domain of prestigious prep schools and professional teams; locally, of course, the Boston Bruins.

As a high school teacher, I remember the arrival of hockey as a booster-funded sport in the mid-1970s and the enthusiasm of the dads who wanted their sons to have the experience of competing in this demanding sport.

By the time the boys got to their first class, I knew they’d already been up for hours to take advantage of precious ice time, and yet their demeanor was purposeful.

For many it was the first co-curricular activity they’d really taken to. And they were good! State championships lay ahead in just a few short years.

A conversation with a neighbor near Willard Beach in South Portland suggested the history behind the appeal of this demanding sport.

Ed had been a three-sport athlete at his high school near Saugus, Mass., eventually the home of an enormous rink named Hockeytown USA.

Following college, he attended officer candidate school and made a lifelong friend of Bowdoin hockey icon Sid Watson. New to skating, Ed pursued hockey with the passion he’d shown as a linebacker and sprinter, and soon became an official, making the grand sum of $5 per game.

And the games were spirited; so much so that Ed and another referee fled at the period break rather than face the continuing outbursts of violence on and off the ice! Some days he and a friend would officiate games virtually all night, traveling throughout the state.

A lifelong Bruins fan, Ed credits the great Bobby Orr with providing the rinks that allowed the sport to grow among kids of modest income. No longer relegated to prep schools, hockey leagues exploded.

As a teacher, I saw the quiet pride that came from success on the rink. A young man who’d struggled with the challenges of adolescence more than most spoke directly to me for the first time all semester when he told me quietly, “Mrs. Williams, we won.”

He was referring to the state championship, which they had indeed won the night before. That kind of pride lasts a lifetime.

The challenges facing our young people are greater than ever, and lessons to be learned from being a hockey team member are valuable.

A former player wrote of this in a personal way in the book celebrating the town’s 350th year. Even a loss in double overtime was memorable because of team and fan support.

As the boys hugged and congratulated each other, it was hard to tell who had won and who had lost. Good sportsmanship prevailed and both teams came away with a sense of accomplishment.

Massachusetts may have introduced Maine to high school hockey, but we learned to love it all by ourselves.

After all, what else could get Mainers to leave warm homes on a cold night to sit around the ice?

— Special to the Telegram