The news that a nearby resident was sporting a Snoopy tie galvanized us into action. He had received it from Charles M. Schulz - whose ''Peanuts'' characters have delighted us for so long - as a player in Snoopy's Senior World Hockey Tournament. With the tournament passing its 10th anniversary, we asked Mr. Schulz if he would share some reflections on the subject. Herewith his kind reply.
1935 was a good sports year for me. That summer I saw my first professional baseball game, and that winter I saw the St. Paul hockey team play Wichita in what was then the United States Hockey League. The hockey we played as kids in our neighborhood was on either a ridiculously small rink that my dad made for us in our backyard or else out in the snow-covered street. The goals were always two clumps of snow, which worked quite well until an inconsiderate woman driver crushed them as we all stood to the side yelling raucous remarks.
Our house had a typical Minnesota basement, and beneath the stairs there was an area that was just wide enough to simulate a hockey goal. I had a very accommodating 65-year-old grandmother who was willing to stand in the goal with a broom while I shot tennis balls at her. She really knew nothing about sports, but loved to follow the accomplishments of local teams. Her favorite heroine, of course, was Patty Berg, even though she never understood golf scoring.
Many years later, my own family and I made our big move to northern California. For a long time, our only regret with this move was that we could no longer keep up our ice skating. Rumor had it that across town there was an arena , which we finally visited one night and eventually renewed our skating. Just as our two boys began to develop a few hockey skills, and our two youngest girls discovered the excitement of show skating, the arena developed structural difficulties and had to close. I remember remarking to my wife, ''I wish there were something we could do about it,'' and she answered, ''I was hoping you would say that.''
Two years later, the community saw the completion of what has been described as the world's most beautiful ice arena. It is dedicated to the public's enjoyment of skating. We have our serious skaters, of course, and we put on the most extravagant and beautiful ice shows that you can see anyplace. We even hold symphony concerts, and after covering the ice we hold an annual women's tennis tournament with such greats as Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, and Virginia Wade.
What has become probably our most looked-forward-to event each July, however, is Snoopy's Senior World Hockey Tournament. I recall this past summer, standing by the rail with a man who formerly played in Czechoslovakia. He remarked, ''I stood here for nine years waiting to be old enough to play in this tournament.'' Our minimum age bracket is 40, and we play in five-year brackets, going on up to what next year will be our first 65-year-old bracket. The men in that age group have been complaining that they are tired of ''chasing those 60-year-old kids around.''
Our gratitude toward the men who come all the way across our country and from Canada, or even from Finland and Japan, makes us try to put on the best tournament we can. We host an outdoor barbecue, and on Saturday night, before the Sunday finals, we have entertainment for the men and their wives, which includes a dance. The actual play during the tournament is typical of senior hockey, which means no body-checking or slap shots. Actually, we sometimes feel this produces a better brand of hockey, for the emphasis then turns toward fast skating and good passing plays. Our more fanatic spectators appreciate being able to see many of the former National Hockey League stars who have now entered senior life but still put on marvelous exhibitions of their talent.
Strange things do happen, of course. My team - and I use the expression humbly - was suiting up a couple of years ago when we heard that the goalie, who was in action in the game in progress, had just hurt his leg. His team had no substitute, but the goalie whose team we were preparing to play was suited up and ready to go. He went in as the substitute, but found himself in a much faster game than the one he was prepared for. His team was composed of men over 60, and he now found himself in a tie game of men in their 40s. He put on a superb performance, however, and shut out the opponents for the remainder of the third period and then the five-minute overtime. His new teammates pounded him on the back and congratulated him for his heroic goaltending. The next game he started against our team, which then went out and scored nine goals against him. This is what can happen in Snoopy's Senior World Hockey Tournament.
It takes the work of 50 to 100 dedicated volunteers to put on our tournament, but I believe the joy that we get seeing the excitement of these games makes it worthwhile, and I have said many times that these seniors deserve something in return for what they have put in toward youth hockey. Almost all of these men work as coaches or referees at arenas where they come from, and this helps to repay them for their dedication.
It is time now, of course, to begin planning for our 11th tournament, and I imagine we will have at least 40 teams. Each year we wonder if we can surpass our last year's event, but somehow it happens.