wivell pond hockey

For four generations, the Wivell family has strapped on ice skates and taken to the ice for some pond hockey.

Deb Spalding

 Many of you can probably recall a memory of sitting by a camp fire, enjoying the glow of the flames, the toasty warmth on your legs, and the occasional pop of a spark. Just imagine. Despite the pesky mosquitoes, isn’t that a nice place to be?

To generations of the large-extended Wivell family in Emmitsburg, this scenario is commonplace. In summer, they go camping. In winter, they snuggle close to a camp fire, while warding off a stiff sub-freezing chill on the non-toasty side of their bodies. They’re dressed in layers for warmth, thick gloves, and… ice skates. Every now and then, when a skate starts to smoke, they check the bottom to make sure it didn’t melt much, then return to the family pond for more ice skating and pond hockey.

As many as four generations of Wivells have been represented on the pond at one time in recent years. 

Sarah (Wivell) Bryson said, “My dad was one of thirteen children and his dad was one of twenty.”

Skaters of all ages show up to skate. The family’s ‘elders’ are just as fast on skates—if not faster—than the youngsters. Sam Wivell and Roy Wivell, Jr., both in their 60s, are two of the most advanced skaters on the pond. They zip around the ice with ease, handling the puck with proficiency.

When a large crowd shows up, teams are created and games are timed (usually five to eight minutes), with the winners of each match staying on the ice. There are plenty of falls, sprains, bruises, and challenges; however, the physical discomfort becomes insignificant compared to the foundation of heritage created in these treasured times.

“You’ve got to be prepared to bounce and go to work on Monday with a lot of bruises,” said Chris “Chic” Wivell.

The ice is rarely perfect. The wishy-washy temperatures on the Mason Dixon line guarantee a challenge to keep the ice in a useable state. The winter of 2014 was a consistently cold winter, during which the occasional snow was quickly pushed off the ice with a snow plow. This season, however, the ice has been suitable for skating on only two days so far.

The Wivell pond was built in 1954, through the Maryland Soil Conservation, by Roy Wivell, Sr. 

When conditions allow, pond skating takes place day and night. In earlier days, lanterns were used to light the ice at night; today, the Wivells use stadium-like lights, tied high in a tree to light up the ice. Music blasts from a nice sound system, and everything is powered by a generator, except the camp fire and the skaters. Even with today’s technology evident, you can get to the ice only one way: by walking through the pasture among the goats, cattle, and chickens.

The Wivells are generations of farmers. The descendants of those original 20 siblings number 536 these days.

 “Chic” Wivell said, “Growing up, it was go to church, milk the cows, and pond hockey on weekends. In that order.”

With such a large family today, many family members hold full-time, non-farming jobs, but they return to the farm when they can to help out.

A video called The Magic of Pond Hockey was created by Danny Favret and Jason Pugh. It showcases the Wivell family’s unique heritage of pond skating. The video was part of a documentary that NBC-4 aired in 2014, leading up to the Washington Capitals Winter Classic game that was played outside at Nationals Park on New Year’s Day. View the documentary at  www.nbcwashington.com/news/sports/1224-pugh-ice-sports_Washington-DC-286798701.html.


Issiah “Bub” Wivell is shown tying on his skates for an afternoon of skating in January 2015.

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