The final time I interviewed Jerry Edwards for the newspaper it concerned the end of an amazing 44-year streak.
That’s how long Beloit’s “Mr. Hockey” had coached a Beloit Youth Hockey Association team--every single winter, starting in 1969.
Edwards was 76 when he hung it up as a coach, declaring his impending hip surgery would require him to at least take a break.
To be honest, it’s never been the same at the rink named after him, and it won’t be again. Edwards, 83, passed away Wednesday at UW Hospital in Madison. (Funeral arrangements are pending).
I will remember him simply as the go-to guy concerning anything hockey. He played such a critical role in the forming of the BYHA as well as the fundraising and construction of the rink at Telfer Park that the place was officially named the Edwards Ice Arena on Nov. 14, 1995.
Edwards literally spilled his blood working for the rink. In 2001, he fell off a ladder while working on the rink’s overhead door and broke the femur in his left leg and blew out his knee. He attributed that injury to contributing to his need for the hip surgery that ended his streak.
The BYHA traces its origins back to Edward’s first team, the Todd School Tuffies, in 1969. Almost all the games then were played outside, and he loved to describe to future Pee Wees what old-school practices were like.
“Ever change into your skates in a snow bank?” Edwards would ask his players. “Ever change into your gear in a backseat? Ever wear talcum powder and a bread bag on your feet to try to keep them warm? Back then, every player had a painter’s mask to wear when it was really cold.”
He loved to tell his players how good they have it now. But he admitted he had a ball back in “the good old days.”
Those stretch back to his own experiences playing hockey on rinks flooded by the city at the then-Roosevelt and Lincoln schools.
“The eastside guys like me went to Lincoln, and we’d play hockey all day when we could,” he said. “Or we’d chase girls. It was a meeting place back then. I met my wife there. On weekends, those places were packed.”
Edwards never lost his passion for the sport. Awards of every description cluttered his office at Jerry’s Sports Service. Dozens of team photos dating back to the Wagon Wheel Ice Palace in Rockton covered every other available space on his walls. He also had photos of his sons, who inherited his love for the sport and played for him and later at Beloit Memorial High School.
Edwards is one of the most celebrated hockey enthusiasts in the state of Wisconsin. A past president of the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association and Central District Director for USA Hockey, he is a distinguished member emeritus of both. Elected to the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame in 1989, he was also awarded the prestigious William Thayer Tutt award for meritorious service in 1991. He won his share of titles with the BYHA, but he was more proud of the success of the association as a whole.
He said USA Hockey changed the philosophy of youth hockey and the local association reflected it. Instead of chasing trophies, getting more kids on the ice became a goal.
Edwards certainly won’t be forgotten. The BYHA Board of Directors jointly released a statement that sums up his importance to the sport locally:
“Chances are if you played for BYHA, you were coached at one time or another by Mr. Edwards. He had a knack for remembering his players long after their playing days. His words of wisdom, passion for the area youth, and friendly chats will definitely be missed, but his legacy will never be forgotten. Rest in peace Mr. Edwards. Thank you for all that you have done and the road that you have paved for our hockey community.”