Father and son hit the ice in Military Heroes hockey tournament

Published 3:18 pm Wednesday, July 26, 2023

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By BARTON PERKINS | Staff Writer

PELHAM – Justin Longmire and his son Charlie hit the ice on Saturday, July 22, and played in a hockey tournament dedicated to raising money to provide service animals to veterans.

The Military Heroes tournament was composed of four teams consisting of active and veteran service members, or individuals with familial connections to the military. When Justin heard about the event, he was immediately interested.

“I grew up in Alaska and Minnesota, and hockey was kind of the only sport to do,” Justin said. “It’s been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember.”

Justin has served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 20 years and for the past five of those he has been stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery. As long as Justin has been stationed in Alabama, he has been driving his three sons, aged eight to sixteen, an hour’s commute to play hockey at the Pelham Civic Center and Ice Arena.

“I’ll say it, I feel like that’s on the ragged edge of ridiculous for youth sports, but over the past several years, it’s also provided just a great chance to spend quality time with my sons,” Justin said. “And it also gives me a chance to put all the boys in the car, drive them to Pelham, and give Mom a break.”

While his youngest son learns to skate with the Little Toros and his oldest son practices with the Birmingham Bulls, Justin coaches his middle son’s house league team. The entire family is deeply rooted in the Pelham hockey community, which led to them learning about the Military Heroes tournament.

“Back in June, the hockey director, Josh Harris, put on a charity tournament that was the police department versus fire department, Guns and Hoses,” Justin said. “ I played on the fire department team, and that game was such a success and so much fun. Then Harris said, ‘Hey, you know what, I think I want to do more of these benefit tournaments because it generates interest in hockey and it benefits the community.’”

Harris decided that for the next charitable tournament, he wanted to give support and recognition to active and retired service members. He contacted a veteran hockey organization in Columbus, Georgia,  and they agreed to participate. Harris then set out to pull together teams composed of individuals living in Alabama, but he couldn’t find enough players for the two additional teams. When Justin found out, it gave him an idea.

“My oldest son Charlie is 16 and a pretty big kid,” Justin said. “And he’s a military kid. So I asked if he could play in the tournament too, and they said, ‘If you don’t mind him playing with adults.’ I got really excited. Since he was little, I’ve always wanted the chance to play on the same team as him.”

Charlie plays on the Birmingham Bulls travel team and was excited about getting to play in the Military Heroes tournament. At 16, Charlie was the youngest player on the ice, with most other participants being in their 30s and 40s. Some of the men were even in their mid-sixties.

“That’s the sport of Hockey,” said Susie Gray, director of skating. “It’s just something that you could do for your whole life.”

The Stripes, Justin and Charlie’s team, made it all the way to the tournament’s championship on Sunday, July 23. They played a brutal match against the Wounded Warriors, a team of veterans based out of Columbus. During the match, Justin had a moment with his son that he says he will treasure for a lifetime.

“Charlie took a shot, and then I scored on the rebound,” Justin said. “As events go in dad’s life, that was on the bucket list for sure.”

The championship match ended with the Wounded Warriors scoring four goals to beat the Stripes. Despite this, both Longmires agree that it was an incredibly fun game. Charlie noted that the best part was seeing how similar he played to his dad.

“It was cool to see how similar we played,” Charlie said. “It was pretty fun to kind of see that because we were doing the same thing just on opposite sides of the ice.”

Ultimately the inaugural Military Heroes Hockey Tournament was attended by well over 100 people, and $1260 was raised to provide veterans with service animals. There are already talks about the possibility of creating a hockey program for service members and goals for next year’s tournament.

“My middle son William, he’s actually already said he can’t wait till he’s big enough to be on the same team as me,” Justin said. “Man, I can’t wait either.”