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From left: Ben Gilles, Mark Tracy, Jeremy Browning and Billy Hemann all are hockey players that balance school and hockey with jobs at uptown Athens bars.

On the Rocks

At 8 p.m., Mark Tracy slaps his stick and jostles the puck away from a Kent State forward before advancing it to one of his offensive teammates in the first period of the hockey game.

Just three hours later, the team captain finds himself in a completely different environment. Instead of dishing passes and denying the lanes of his opponents, he dishes out drinks to C.I. patrons and denies fake I.Ds

Such is a typical weekend night for Tracy. He, along with three other Bobcat teammates, trade checking people into the boards for checking IDs.

“I mean, it’s not really as bad as it sounds, doing all three things,” Tracy said. “We get into a routine. Management is compensating. Yeah, it’s kinda tough, but we all have gotten used to it.”

Along with Tracy, defenseman/forward Jeremy Browning also works at The C.I. Across the street at Pawpurr’s, Billy Hemann stocks behind the bar and monitors the door. A few bars down from The C.I., defenseman Ben Gilles works at Cats’ Eye Saloon.

Hockey’s status as a non-varsity sport means the four players all need jobs in order to help pay for the costs of school, especially Browning, who must pay out-of-state tuition. During the season, they all are given the daunting task of balancing one of the most exhausting sports with work and school.

“If I wouldn’t have gotten this job, there’s no way I would have played here,” Hemann said. “It can be hectic and tough to balance, but we all get through it.”

All four have gotten used to the routine. With so much to do, they have learned to manage their time in order to effectively balance their three big responsibilities.

Without much free time, the hardest thing to deal with is the course load, Tracy said.

“School definitely suffers a little,” Tracy said. “With tests and school, I’ll get through it, but it’s kind of hard not to see the grades slip somewhat.”

Hemann and Gilles work most of their shifts during the week, but for Tracy and Browning, both must build up the energy to head into work after games on weekends in order to complete their weekend shift.

They have a standard routine for the occasion. For the 11-weekend series’, they’ll shower, eat and head off to another night at the bar. It can be hard to keep focus once they arrive at work, but with a little Red Bull and extra focus, Tracy and Browning get through it.

But sometimes, it doesn’t go according to plan. A few weekends ago against Robert Morris, the Colonials’ bus broke down, delaying the game an hour to 8:30 p.m. With his shift still set to start at 11, Tracy had to race to work without eating after the game.

“That was definitely hectic,” Tracy said. “I basically had to go straight from the rink up to the bar. It was tough on an empty stomach and I had to down a few extra Red Bulls to get through that night.”

Hockey is known as a tough man’s game. With hard hits and fights defining the sport (although brawls don’t frequent the collegiate games.), the players’ employment adds to the already blue-collar image of Ohio’s hockey team.

With the quartet of players working to earn the right to play, each lives what seems to be a collegiate dream out of a movie: The players participate on one of the campus’ most popular sports teams while also working at a fun, social environment a bar provides.

“All the stuff going on does definitely make me appreciate playing a lot more,”

Hemann said. “I’ve really learned to get better at getting the most out of the situation, especially hockey.”

Usually, more than just four players work at bars to support themselves. With a majority of the players coming to Ohio from junior college hockey careers, bar owners around Athens jump at the opportunity to hire the players because most of them are already 21 years old when they arrive on campus. That allows the players to be employed all four years of their time at the university.

Coach Dan Morris supports his players working the season and understands their situation. After all, he also tended bar at Lucky’s during his college hockey days at Ohio.

“Once they get into the routine of it, it’s not a big deal,” Morris said. “When’s the average college student go to bed on a Friday night? They get done playing, eat and go to work. They still are pretty jacked up from the game, so I’m fine with it.”

Despite the craziness that adjusting to all three responsibilities brings, none of the four players would trade his tenure as a hockey player and bar worker for anything. It has been the players chance to live an exciting and interesting college experience while playing the sport they love.

“It’s awesome,” Tracy said. “I wouldn’t give it up for anything. After all I’ve gotten out of working and playing here, I’d suggest it to any player that comes through here if they need to make some extra money.”

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