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It’s an “obscure” game, but for some, it’s a lot of fun! How the sport of underwater hockey is making waves

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BROWN DEER (WITI ) -- It's a sport that features elements of soccer, hockey and basketball -- and the latter is often played above the rim. It is a game that's difficult to compare to any other!

In this sport, all the action is underwater!

"Underwater hockey is a sport that you play on the bottom of the pool. You play with about a one-foot long stick and a three-pound puck and you push it into the goal. There's a goal on each side," eighth-grader Molly Banks said.

The sport involves players of all ages! There are two 15-minute halves, and six players per side. These players, as one player put it, "look like fish fighting for a kernel of corn," but these fish need air, so they pop up for it periodically before diving back down.

"We call it breath control -- being able to use your air efficiently. Part of that is a skill and part of it is fitness, and the ability to handle a puck -- that's practice," Molly Banks' father, Kendall Banks said.

Underwater hockey was invited by a man in the United Kingdom over 60 years ago.

"He was looking for a way to keep scuba divers in shape during the winter. He made up the game and they called it 'octopush,'" Kendall Banks said.

In the late 1970s, underwater hockey was still a push game. The stick resembled a shuffleboard stick. It was a physical and at times violent game because you couldn't pass the puck. Competitors dropped a shoulder and got in there and just rammed each other. But the stick and the sport have evolved.

"Somebody figured out you turn the stick to the side, and then with a flick of the wrist you can send it 10-12 feet. It's kinda like a frisbee. It'll come off the bottom and it'll sail," Kendall Banks said.

Make no mistake, underwater hockey is still a physical sport. Thus, the players wear a diving mask, snorkel and fins, a water polo cap for ear protection and a glove to protect the playing hand from pool-bottom abrasion and the puck.

Molly Banks' parents, who moved from California to Sturgeon Bay several years ago started up the sport in Wisconsin. The eighth-grader plays on one of the two underwater hockey teams in the state. She's also one of a few father-daughter pairs on a team that competed with 14 others from the United States, Canada and Columbia last month at the Schroeder YMCA in Brown Deer.

"It's really fun. We read each other really well. We can make good passes, really good goals. All the other sports that I play, it's just school sports with people my age, but I'm playing with so many different people of all ages," Molly Banks said.

"It's fun to see her doing well and she's got so much quickness and popped a couple goals in that were important. That was, of course, proud Papa, but it's also just fun. We connect pretty well together down there," Kendall Banks said.

Molly Banks' mom and dad actually met through the sport.

"My dad was at his prime and my mom was just starting, and they met and really liked each other I guess, so underwater hockey is my birth sport," Molly Banks said.

Kendall Banks is a renowned underwater hockey player. He competed in the first world championship in 1986 and every one after through 2006. The first one featured five countries. Now, more than 20 take part. Like her dad, Molly Banks hopes to make her own splash in the sport.

"I hope that I can make it on the world's team, and to travel around the world just to play hockey," Molly Banks said.

Underwater hockey is starting to make waves as a core of people, such as Kendall Banks, keep it going and growing while having fun.

"The people have been really good. There's a certain camaraderie between people that play underwater hockey because it's so obscure, so it's a good group and we know all of the people that come to this tournament and a lot of them we know from our past and it's always fun to see old friends and new friends," Kendall Banks said.

Underwater hockey scores are similar to ice hockey -- 2-1, 3-0. Once in awhile you'll get an 11-goal game, but that's an offensive explosion!

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