A lot of people have devoted considerable time and energy over the last four-and-a-half decades to make the Suburban High School Hockey League what it is today.
But if any one individual was particularly instrumental in getting the league off the ground, it likely would be Walter Jewell. He was present at the creation.
A native of Kent, England, Jewell emigrated to Canada with his family in 1956 and settled in Orangeville, Ontario, about an hour’s drive northwest of Toronto, and started coaching youth hockey there.
Three years later, the family moved to the United States, to Haddonfield, New Jersey and Jewell got involved with hockey at the old Cherry Hill Arena. He also began sponsoring exchange trips, taking teams from New Jersey north to Orangeville while a Canadian squad came to New Jersey in alternate years.
Those trips continued after Jewell settled his family in Glenside in 1966, began coaching hockey at the Wissahickon Skating Club, and launched an exchange with the Merrition Athletic Association in St. Catherines, Ont.
In October of 1971, Jewell put together a team, actually, two of them, to play in the Penn Jersey Hockey League, which operated at the original Grundy Rink in Bristol. By this time he and his wife Iris owned a skate shop, which operated in the old Willow Grove Park Lanes bowling center, which was located near where the Willow Grove Mall is today. One team skated under the name of the Wintersport-Abington Hockey Club and the other as Willow Grove. The Wintersport Skate Shop sponsored one team and the Willow Grove Rotary Club the other. Jewell himself coached both teams, which were comprised primarily of Abington High School players.
The Wintersport team finished second in the Penn Jersey League’s regular season that year, 1971-72, but instead of participating in the league playoffs, Jewell took his teams to Conwall, Ontario on an exchange trip instead.
By this time, Jewell got the idea of building rink of his own, at least in part because ice time at Grundy was scarce. Eventually, he and his attorney Ray Reinl, formed the Willow Grove Ice Rink Corporation with the goal of constructing a rink on York Road in Willow Grove. Their plan was to have the rink up and running by July of 1972. Jewell and Reinl didn’t meet that target date but Wintersport Skating Arena, as it was called, opened its doors somewhere around November 11, 1972 and the skate shop, naturally enough, moved into the facility.
Once Wintersport was up and running, Jewell launched a league for high-school aged players, including his own two teams, which he removed from the Penn Jersey League. Abington won the league title, defeating a team called the Northeast Sabres 3-2 in the championship game.
The following season, 1973-74, Wintersport became the home of was then called the Suburban Collegiate High School Hockey League. Anecdotal evidence suggests the league consisted of eight teams: North Penn, Abington, Hatboro-Horsham, Lower Moreland, Upper Moreland Philmont (or Willow Grove), Northeast, and Plymouth Whitemarsh.
The 1973-74 season of course was the most memorable in the history of hockey in the Philadelphia area; it concluded with the Flyers winning their first Stanley Cup. The team’s success on ice, combined with the organization’s commitment to not just growing the game but educating the public about it, sparked the growth of high-school hockey throughout the region.
Walter Jewell continued to be involved in hockey for many years. He passed away in Salisbury, Maryland in July of 2007 at age 83.
Hockey Happenings is engaged in an ongoing effort to document the history of the Suburban High School Hockey League. We encourage those who played or coached in the league in its early years to contact us.
We thank the Upper Moreland Historical Association for their assistance in researching this account.