Let Hemsky Run

The UA and the TCC mysteriously crack down on a fan's famous intermission routine

Aside from his marriage and the news of the impending birth of his first child, most of James "Hemsky" Reese's greatest thrills have involved high-fiving fellow University of Arizona ice-hockey fans while running up and down the stands at the Tucson Convention Center Arena.

"It's been a big chunk of my life," Reese, 28, said of the "Rocky Run," so dubbed because it occurs while "Eye of the Tiger," the theme song from Rocky III, blares over the public-address system.

Known to most fans as Hemsky—for the blue-and-orange Ales Hemsky hockey jersey of the Edmonton Oilers that he wears to every game—Reese had made his way up, down and around the arena for more than eight seasons' worth of contests without any known complaints.

But the Rocky Run came to an end several weeks ago when TCC officials told Reese that it was an insurance liability and violated the TCC's long-in-place-but-never-publicized Guest Code of Conduct.

The 11 rules, which started appearing on display easels in and around the arena in early January, include one that states that fans can be removed from the premises if they are "a disruption to the event presentation, performance or game." Reese said he was told, following the completion of his run on Jan. 6, that he'd violated the rule and was being banned from the TCC.

"I've never hurt anybody; I've never run over anybody," said Reese, who by day is a mild-mannered furniture deliveryman who happens to be obsessed with hockey, no matter the skill level. "I'm cognizant of my surroundings. ... I'm just trying to bring some enjoyment to the game."

For the record, the Rocky Run occurs during the second intermission, a 20-minute break between the second and third periods of a hockey game, when the only thing that could be considered a presentation or performance is the Zamboni driver cleaning the playing surface.

"The disruption is that he's not doing it," said Kevin Fisher, a longtime local hockey fan and the owner of one of the orange "Let Hemsky Run" shirts that were made after news spread of Reese's ban.

Added fan Pappy Fielding, who has attended games for 28 years: "It's during intermission. It's not dangerous. All these kids are running up and down all the time."

After meeting with TCC deputy director Tommy Obermaier a week later, Reese said, his outright ban from the TCC was lifted, and he was told that he could attend games—but he could not do his run.

However, Reese said he will never attend another event at the TCC.

Reese said he isn't advocating for others to boycott the games, because it would be unfair to the team—"The (players) have nothing to do with this," he said—but he is hoping those who do go will show will their disdain by avoiding the concession stands.

"When you hit them in the pocketbook, that's what affects them," Reese said.

Why enforcement of the code of conduct suddenly started earlier this month remains a mystery.

Obermaier did not return repeated calls for comment, nor did Mary O'Mahoney, an assistant director with the UA's Department of Campus Recreation, which has overseen the ice-hockey program since officially recognizing the sport last year.

Reese and other fans speculate the Rocky Run ban is part of an effort to distance the hockey program from the 30-plus years it was operated as an unaffiliated-to-the-school team by polarizing founder and coach Leo Golembiewski.

Golembiewski was ousted after a player uprising last spring, and since then, the team has been renamed the Wildcats after previously being called the Icecats. The UA's block "A" logo now adorns the team's jerseys, and "Bear Down, Arizona!" is played over the loudspeaker during the same intermission when Reese did his Rocky thing.

"I just think they want to rid themselves of any traditions from when Leo was coaching," Reese said. "I really believe this (ban) has something to do with the UA taking over."

Brian Slugocki, a junior forward and the club hockey team's president, wrote in an email that no one associated with the team had anything to do with ending the Rocky Run.

"We always appreciate all the fan support we receive from the Tucson community and as players hope that our fans continue to support the team now and in the future," Slugocki wrote.

During a meeting with Obermaier and O'Mahoney on Jan. 13, Reese said Obermaier admitted the TCC's Guest Code of Conduct had been around through much of the Golembiewski era, and that officials had previously chosen not to enforce the rule Reese was accused of violating.

Obermaier wouldn't explain why things changed, Reese said.

"He said, 'I'm not going to debate why we didn't enforce these rules before, and why we didn't put them up in the arena before,'" Reese said.

As for the liability concerns, Reese said he offered to sign a waiver absolving the TCC and the UA of any responsibility if he were to injure a fan, but that the offer was turned down.

"I think there are far more dangerous things than the run," Reese said.

Mind you, this is a sport that requires the public-address announcer to repeatedly remind fans that frozen rubber discs could launch off the ice and into the stands at any moment. It's one reason each ticket says, "Holder assumes all risks," right on the front.

It's also an event where, since the introduction a few weeks ago of a T-shirt gun that launches shirts into the crowd during the first intermission, fans dive across rows of seats to get free stuff.

"A person was standing on one of the folding chairs trying to catch a shirt and fell on his butt," fan Jill Filar said during a break in the game on Saturday, Jan. 21, a 2-1 overtime loss to Davenport University, the defending American Collegiate Hockey Association Division 1 champion.

In addition to the "Let Hemsky Run" shirts, other fan efforts to lift the ban on Reese's performance have included Filar and Fisher handing out fliers prior to games and participating in a walk along the route of the Rocky Run during the time when it used to occur.

Despite those efforts, Fisher and Filar think trying to get the decision-makers to reverse course is a lost cause.

"It's just a shame that, one of their greatest fans, they're getting rid of," Filar said.