By Matt Kane
DELANO Where do more than 400 Delano area athletes run to during the winter? The Delano Area Sports Arena, better known as DASA.
From kids who can barely walk in shoes to adults who are just trying to hold on to some of their old glory, hockey learners and lovers take to the single hockey rink inside the 29,000-square-foot, steel-shelled building, which neighbors the Delano Elementary School on Tiger Drive, from September until the middle of March. And, then, after the 15,000 gallons of one-and-a-half-inch ice melts and the floor is dried and covered with synthetic turf, it is the Delano Rage lacrosse program’s turn at the arena.
In a calendar year, DASA’s doors are open from September through July.
“August is the only month with nothing at the arena,” said Manager Rick Ragen, who is in his sixth year. “That month is used for building preparation.”
The lacrosse teams use the rink area for preseason training before heading outside for the spring seasons. The bulk of DASA’s traffic is hockey.
DASA is the home to the Crow River Youth Hockey Association and its 15 teams and close to 340 skaters on both boys’ and girls’ teams, as well as the two Delano/Rockford boys high school teams (varsity and junior varsity), the two Buffalo Bison girls high school teams (part time), and those old timers in a men’s league.
For three weekends during the winter, DASA hosts five tournaments, which attracts hundreds of visiting teams and fans to Delano.
All teams and leagues rent ice time from DASA, which has its own nine-member board and is not an entity of either the City of Delano or Delano Schools. DASA rents the land the arena sits on from the school.
DASA was built in 1991, and has gone through a number of significant face-lifts since then. In the last six years, alone, the bleachers, which sit on the north side of the ice, have been completely redone, a vast storage area that sits at the top of the bleacher area was constructed, a heated pavilion area was added behind the south goal, a new sound system went in two seasons ago, and two custom locker rooms were added, bringing the locker room total to five.
This past year, a new dehumidifier system was installed at the cost of $100,000.
“I don’t think people realize how much running an arena costs,” said Ragen, who is the only full-time employee of the arena. He has nine part-time employees, who do everything from resurfacing the ice to cleaning the bathrooms.
While money has to be turned over for supplies and equipment, much of the labor is volunteer. It is not uncommon to see coaches, players, and parents pounding nails and lugging drywall around the arena during phases of construction.
It’s a pride thing.
“Because this is a smaller association, the kids really take ownership of this arena,” said Ragen.
Take those two new custom locker rooms, which were built in the past two years, for example. The second was built prior to this hockey season on top of the first, which was constructed last season, to give the high school teams some privacy together at the east end of the bleachers. When the varsity team decided it wanted the new, top-floor room, its players did all the work in changing out the custom-made, wooden locker stalls.
That pride in shedding blood, sweat, and tears inside DASA, both on the ice and while working on the building, leaves those who call DASA home with a fondness for the building, despite its simple, old-school look, and cold temperature inside.
“That’s what gives it its charm,” said Ragen. “It’s almost like an old barn.”
An old barn with great ice.
“It is cold in here, and we have some of the best ice around because of the building,” Ragen said with pride. “All the teams that visit here love our ice because it is hard and fast.”
Another sheet of that pristine hockey ice may be in the works in the near future. DASA is exploring options of adding a second building to the complex. The building, which would sit to the east of the current arena, would house a smaller sheet of ice, and would be used for practices and youth games.