When Columbus Parks and Recreation, Columbus Youth Hockey and USA Hockey sponsored a Try Hockey for Free program for girls on Oct. 9, they weren’t expecting a big turnout.

Instead, 16 girls showed up to learn the basics of the game.

“It went really well,” house league coach Eric Howe said. “That exceeded what we thought would happen over fall break.”

Howe is a former Columbus Icemen assistant coach and was on the Columbus Youth Hockey Board. He now has two kids playing in the Mites (8-and-under) program.

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Now, Howe and his colleagues are trying to recruit other kids to the hockey program at Hamilton Center Ice Arena.

Last year, the numbers went from 5 to 15 to 30 kids. They’re expecting a big jump to 45 to 50 kids this year.

“We’re really growing the numbers, and it’s through these programs like Learn to Play Hockey and Try Hockey for Free,” Howe said. “We’re trying to get as many kids as we can to try it.”

The Columbus Parks and Rec House League starts today at Hamilton Center. Kids 4 to 10 can try it, although the age limit can stretch to 12. Practices are from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays for Session I is November and December and Session II is January and February.

The next Try Hockey for Free date is Nov. 12 and is open to anyone. Parks and Rec sponsors Learn to Play Hockey after the public skate on Saturdays for a $5 fee. There is a no-commitment show up each week.

“The intent is just to have anyone come out and experience being on the ice,” Howe said. “We’ll take kids that have never played before, and we’ll put them equipment. As they progress, after six to 10 times, we’ll put them into our house league.”

If you go

The Parks and Recreation House League begins today. Cost is $110 per session, and scholarships are available.

To register, or for more information, call Hamilton Center ice Arena or Parks and Rec at 812-376-2686.

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.