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Put on ice: the history of Kenyon’s extinct ice hockey team

Put on ice: the history of Kenyon’s extinct ice hockey team

Though central Ohio lays claim to its own professional hockey team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Kenyon College has limited winter sports opportunities. This was not always the case. The College had an active ice hockey team from the 1970s until the 2000s, regularly competing against schools such as Denison, Wittenberg, Ohio-Wesleyan and Baldwin-Wallace.

The date of the team’s inception isn’t clear, but by 1979 they had become the “Kenyon Chiefs.” The team name may reference the 1977 comedy film Slap Shot, which stars Paul Newman ’49 and chronicles the misadventures of a failing minor league hockey team named the Charleston Chiefs. By 1996 they had changed their name to the Lords to match the other Kenyon sports teams.

During the 1970s, the team would drive 45 minutes to the nearest ice rink in Newark, Ohio to practice and compete. They enjoyed a 5-2 record in 1976-77, but at the end of the decade the College cut funding for the program, giving them a clear disadvantage in competition.

A Collegian editorial in 1979 calls for the construction of an ice rink in Mount Vernon, an idea which apparently had been circulating for years. The editorial mentions Mount Vernon mayoral candidate Betty Winand campaigning on “the social and recreational benefits of such a rink.” The editorial asks, “Does a skating rink stand an icicle’s chance in July of being built?” The answer turned out to be no.

Despite the lack of a rink, club hockey had returned to Kenyon by the late ’80s. The Chiefs played a full season in 1989-90, with senior player Dawson Driscoll ’90 quoted as saying he “hasn’t had a losing season at Kenyon.” 

The atmosphere around the sport stayed lighthearted throughout its tenure. In Collegian articles from 1990, players regularly admitted to being “still hungover from the weekend.” While there was interest in playing hockey at Kenyon, there was little interest in watching it. A van had been chartered later that year to bring students to the games, but attendance that year ranged from “ten,” on December 7, to “not a single Kenyon fan,” on January 25, according to Collegian reporter Dickie Dunn. The article went on to say that “even Coach Jim Studford was missing.”

The team struggled in the 1990s but turned it around by the end of the decade, according to Gregory Davis ’97, who was co-captain of the team. He said that they only practiced once as a team, for which they traveled to the Ohio State University Ice Rink.

The hockey club continued to change in the 2000s. Rachel Johnson ’03 joined the team her freshman year as one of the team’s first female players. Johnson described 00s era crowds as “25-50 fans.” Despite the gathering interest, the team either disbanded or faded into obscurity by the mid-2000s. Over 10 years later, Kenyon still lacks an ice hockey team.

Johnson told the Collegian she enjoyed playing ice hockey on the Hill, and hopes someone might reinvigorate the tradition. “It was one of my favorite things about being at Kenyon,” she said, noting also its value as a club sport outside more “competitive” spheres. “It was just a group of people who loved the game and wanted to find a way to play it.”

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