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With The Gerihatricks, You're Never Too Old To Play Hockey

March 7, 2019
At the age of 68, more than 50 years after he started playing hockey, Steve Galeski still has some of the freshest legs on the ice.

"I am still a baby," the Frederick, Md., resident and retired Naval officer quipped.

Galeski plays and serves as the acting director for the Gerihatricks, a loosely knit group of senior hockey players in their 50s, 60s, 70s and even 80s who meet every week in Laurel, Md., for games.

"Some guys love the game. Some guys like the camaraderie," Galeski said. "We even reach out and do some charitable work. But all of these guys have a love for the game or we wouldn't be doing this."

The Gerihatricks originated in 1990. Silver Spring, Md., native Bill Wellington, a World War II veteran, wanted the team to compete in the 2000 Senior Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. Teams that competed came from the U.S. and Canada.

Wellington's team didn't just compete. It came home with the gold medal.

The group stayed intact following the Lake Placid Senior Olympics, unable to let go of their playing days. They would meet once a week for informal games at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel and occasionally play in tournaments in cities like Syracuse, N.Y.

Eventually, through word of mouth, the group became large enough to form its own league for 50-and-older players. Right now, there are roughly 200 players who consider themselves Gerihatricks.

Games take place four days a week throughout the year at the Gardens Ice House, in addition to an annual tournament in March that attracts other senior hockey teams from across the country. The 60s-and-under crowd plays on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the 70s-and-over crowd takes the ice on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

"We absolutely love the Gerihatricks," said Gardens Ice House general manager Bill Carr, whose father, Clay, was on the gold-medal team at the Lake Placid Senior Olympics. "It's a perfect example of how great a sport hockey is and how powerful the relationships are from years of playing."

Most of the Gerihatricks are former youth and college players. But experience is not a requirement, and all skill levels are welcome.

John Buchleitner of Severna Park, Md., had never played hockey prior to his 60th birthday. But his son, Chris, convinced him to give it a try.

Buchleitner, along with Wellington, is one of the founding fathers of the Gerihatricks. He helped adopt their slogan: "You are never too old."

Despite his inexperience, Buchleitner played on the Senior Olympics team in 2000.

"I played on the wing. I was kind of harmless in that way," he said. "They put me out there on a line with some pretty good defensemen."

Occasionally, he said, the perfect opportunity would arise and he would score a goal. But, mostly, he was just trying to stay out of the way.

"For some guys, they keep their skill up really well," Buchleitner said. "But it's a very different aging process that everyone goes through. In your 60s, you are probably still pretty good. In your 70s, you really start to slow down. Then, once you hit your 80s, it's starting to get pretty tough."

Wellington played until he was 88 years old. Buchleitner, meanwhile, is 82 and recently had to stop playing to tend to some health issues.

"There are probably only two or three 80-year-olds still playing on the team," he said.

Though the threat of injury is high, that doesn't seem to be much of a deterrent. There isn't much hitting or checking that goes on during Gerihatricks games. Most of the contact that takes place results from players just accidentally skating into one another.

Some players compete with prosthetic legs. Others have had knees and hips replaced. Galeski had his lower back fused not long ago.

"We love the game," Galeski said. "Most of us can't play it like we used to. But that's why we still play it."

This was updated from its original publication. The Gerihatricks were formed in 1990, not 1999.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Steve Galeski

Issue 251: February 2019 

Originally published Feb. 15, 2019