Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why Does Huntsville, Alabama Have a Division I Hockey Team?

On the show a couple weeks back, Kriz and I were left wondering why there was a Division I college hockey team in Alabama. I did a little research and found that Alabama-Huntsville is the only independent team in Division I, being the odd man out in the College Hockey America conference dissolution. It hasn't been pretty for the Chargers in recent years. They haven't had a winning season in five years, and this year they're off to a 1-10-1 start. This intrigued me even further. Why bother paying for a crappy hockey team in Alabama? Who is supporting this? Well, without further ado, an abridged history of Alabama-Huntsville, and how hockey managed to find its way there:

In 1940 Huntville was just another sleepy town in northern Alabama, a two-hour drive south of Nashville nestled into the Tennessee valley. When America entered into WWII that all changed. Huntsville was chosen as the site of the Redstone Arsenal, which first served as a chemical warfare manufacturing and storage plant. At Redstone mustard gas, tear gas, Lewisite, and myriad of other terrible substances were made and stored.

In 1949 Redstone was slated to close, but luckily northern Alabama had a powerful Congressman in Washington. John Sparkman, who served from 1936-1978, (42 years! More than Oberstar!) happened to be on the Joint Committee on Defense Production, and through his influence the Marshall Space Flight Center was built in Huntsville. Now Redstone would shift emphasis from chemical weaponry to rocket science, with renowned German scientist Wernher von Braun heading up the effort to send a man into space.
Redstone rocket in action
As the de facto headquarters for all experimental rocket design, production, and testing, Huntsville attracted the best and brightest scientific and engineering minds from across America. In 1950 Huntsville's population was 16,437, in 1960 it had grown to 72,365, and by 1970 it was 139,282.

All of these engineers and scientists brought their hockey sticks and skates with them. By the late 1970s the first generation of the scientist's children were starting to enter college, and in 1979 the University of Alabama-Huntsville club hockey team debuted. The club team was incredibly successful, at one point winning three straight national championships in the early 1980s before being foiled by Bemidji State in the finals in an attempt for a fourth straight title.

From 1986-98 the Chargers bounced between Division I and II, picking up two Division II championships. So far they've been unable to sustain success in Division I, and were the only team left without a conference when College Hockey America dissolved. This year they're playing as an independent but the long-term future of hockey at Alabama-Huntsville is in question - Save UAH Hockey, Facebook.

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