Natalie Van Druff, 11, reads the letter from New Hanover Township to friend Lilly Walter, also 11, as they collaborate on brainstorming ways to fix up the hockey dek at the community park.

Not all hockey fights take place on the rink! 

Hockey friends Natalie Van Druff and Lilly Walter, both 11, wasted no time last November in standing up to fight for something they love - the well-worn hockey dek at New Hanover Community Park off of Gail Drive in Gilbertsville, PA. What began as a local moms’ and kids’ pickup hockey group swiftly spun into an unexpected, all-out charge to save the local hockey rink from a conversion to pickleball courts.

In October, Kate Van Druff, Natalie’s mom, reached out to the township and offered to buy and donate a second hockey net to the park if someone from the township could pick it up. In a surprising response, she learned about the possible plan to replace hockey with pickleball and it’s been ‘game on’ ever since. A petition started by friend and youth and women’s hockey advocate Alexis Tarantino garnered over 900 signatures in mere weeks. Kids, parents, and coaches from Boyertown Ice Hockey, Pottstown Jesters Travel Ball Hockey, and Pottstown PAL Dek Hockey and beyond joined together to show support for keeping the dek, with players showing up decked out in helmets, jerseys, and full gear at the recreation meeting on November 1, 2023. Parents, coaches, and kids let their voices be heard.

Friends Natalie Van Druff (left) and Lilly Walter (right) stand outside the entrance to New Hanover Community Park in Gilbertsville. The girls are working hard to drive changes that will benefit the local community with repairs and improvements to the park’s beloved and well-worn hockey dek.

Fortunately for the hockey families, this outpouring of support made quite the impact. As a result, the Recreation Committee voted to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that the hockey rink not be converted into pickleball courts.

“Rest assured, the hockey rink will remain intact, but there is much needed discussion on how to improve it for short-term and long-term usage,” New Hanover Township Manager Jamie Gwynn kindly expressed in a letter addressed to Van Druff.

“The Board was inspired by the efforts of your group before and during the meeting to advocate for the rink. To see a collection of young future leaders of our community gather the courage to not only attend a meeting but also share their experience is worth remembering and celebrating.”

Lilly Walter and Natalie Van Druff’s friendship started long before the quest to keep the hockey dek. Here they are celebrating a championship victory with their teammates for their Fall 2022 PAL Dek Hockey team, the Sharks.

Gwynn invited the young “change agents” back to the municipal building for an “opportunity to be a part of the solution.”

Today,  Wednesday, January 24 at 4:30 p.m., 11-year-olds Natalie Van Druff and Lilly Walter, both of Gilbertsville, will present their ideas on their ‘Dream Big’ scenarios for fixing up the hockey dek. Their creative visions will rely heavily on a strong partnership with the local township and the ideal possibility of donors and corporate sponsors to help their hockey dreams come true.

Today's meeting will be held at the New Hanover Township Municipal Building, 2943 North Charlotte Street, Gilbertsville, PA 19525. 

A large group of kids and adults gather to play pickup hockey at New Hanover Community Park in Gilbertsville.

If you would like to participate in the effort to help Natalie and Lilly achieve their goals, contact:  

Kate Van Druff & Alexis Tarantino; PickupSticksHockey.com

Phone: 267-733-2047 | pickupstickshockey@gmail.com

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