F!RST Notes

Hockey-crazed women on ice, UD grad aims to climb every mountain, movie magic in Milton, Book Club and more.

Photograph © by Luigi Ciuffetelli

Check it Out
Whenever a gang of hockey-crazed women lace up their skates, well, some things are gonna happen… by Matt Amis

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Thanks in no small part to Cammi Granato, Tonya Harding and the co-ed Mighty Ducks, participation in women’s ice hockey soared nearly 400 percent in the past 10 years, making it one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.

The First State got its taste in 2002, when the Delaware Phoenix women’s ice hockey organization began welcoming grizzled vets and rookies into the fold. Now the club fields two teams,

both of which have advanced to the Senior Women’s National Championships.

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According to team captain Pam Woods, no one is too old to lace up the skates. The Phoenix’s developmental D team fields first-time players from 9 to 53. Woods’ husband is the team coach, and her daughter, Megan, 17, is her teammate.

The biggest tweak to women’s hockey is a rule that bans body checks. Seems too many European players were being bullied by bulkier North American skaters. But whenever 12 stick-wielding women fly around on a sheet of ice, “Things are going to happen,” Woods says slyly. “It’s a great stress reliever.”

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Why hockey: “Initially it was just a family thing we could do together. Then it turned into this great socialization. I loved skating with these players. Then, of course, I got so into the game itself.”

What it takes to play: “Desire. That’s all there really is. If you look at our team members without their jerseys, you’d never guess they were hockey players.”

Bumps and bruises: “It’s non-check, but there is always contact. I’ve never been hurt, besides a pulled muscle or two. We’re pretty heavily padded. Sticks come up, pucks can pop up. We wear facemasks for that.”

State of the game: “There’s a stigma that ice hockey is a man’s sport, but the Olympics did a lot to help women’s hockey. I never realized how much of an interest there was until we went to the nationals. In Delaware we have two ice hockey programs for women (the Newark-based Bobcats being the other),
and I think that’s pretty good
for a tiny state.”

On ice-spiration: “I aspire to skate like my daughter. She’s very good, a natural. I just flat out enjoy watching her play. She’s my hero on the ice.”

Games for the Delaware Phoenix C team begin October 14. For a full schedule, visit

Dickinson’s Jubilee

The home of our most prominent founding father celebrates 50 years.

Visitors to the John Dickinson Mansion near Dover can study a variety of subjects, including 18th-century living, archaeology, social history, African American history, gardening—even entomology.

“The mosquitoes can be pretty bad,” jokes Gloria Henry, supervisor of the mansion, which celebrates 50 years as a museum on October 14. Admission is free that day. Officials have planned dozens of activities and demonstrations.

Dickinson was governor of Delaware (and Pennsylvania), was one of the First State’s largest landowners, and is credited with hatching the idea of having two senators from each state. He is one of the founding fathers of the United States, a signer of the Constitution, and was dubbed the “Penman of the Revolution.” Dickinson lived in the mansion, on and off, from age 8, but retired to his home in Wilmington, where he died in 1808.

The Dickinson Plantation, just south of Dover Air Force Base near Kitts Hummock, received more than 7,000 visitors last year. Many of those visitors were school children on educational field trips. Henry and the historical interpreters who work at the mansion are often amused by the children’s curiosity.

“Children ask the interpreters if they actually live there,” Henry says. “They want to know if we knew John Dickinson. Sometimes, they ask, ‘Are you a slave?’”

Henry recalls one enthusiastic adult, who was so enamored with the plantation that he was gushing with excitement. Henry, who is African American, was polishing a brass doorknocker in preparation for a big event when the man approached.

“Wouldn’t you have loved to live here during that time (the 1700s)?” the man asked.

“No,” replied Henry, as she continued to shine the doorknocker. “Back then, I would have been doing the exact same thing, but with a lot less freedom.” —Drew Ostroski

Director John Wattenbarger on the set of “The Stone House.”

Totally Insane

An indie filmmaker produces his first in record time. See it now…

Independent filmmakers are usually hard up for cash. Not John Wattenbarger, whose Delaware-based thriller “The Stone House” will premier at the Milton Theater on October 20.

By day, Wattenbarger, 27, is a network administrator for FuturTech Consulting in Wilmington. By night, lunch hour and every waking weekend moment, he’s writing, directing and producing movie magic.

“I fainted once from exhaustion,” Wattenbarger says. “But there’s such good energy on the set, you don’t want to walk away from it.”

Originally conceived by Wattenbarger and writer Donnie Mayles, then developed into a feature screenplay by Wattenbarger and Bill Morse, “The Stone House” is a thriller about an insane asylum that burned down mysteriously in the late 1970s. Legend has it that its long-deceased patients haunt the woods around it. When Rick and Joslin Berlinger move to the small town, they unearth startling truths.

More than 560 wanna-be stars from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware auditioned at Striper Bites restaurant in Lewes and Café Tamburelli’s in Greenwood last winter. Only 30 of them were cast.

Unlike most directors, Wattenbarger showed actors the previous day’s scenes during the filming (processed overnight and screened the next day by the producer, director and crew heads). Unless they’re contemplating suicide, directors never show actors dailies. Actors are often super self-critical. They usually don’t like how they look, which can lead to diva-like tantrums. Fortunately for Wattenbarger, the Hollywood egos stayed off this set.

Most movies take about six weeks to film. “The Stone House” took six months, and the script underwent 16 revisions. Wattenberg estimates its total cost at $35,000, all paid out of his pocket.

“I didn’t do this to make money,” says Wattenbarger. “But it should all pan out when we hit the film festival circuit and the film can be screened throughout the nation.”

—Maria Hess

Hope for Hollywood?

A young auteur hopes to change Tinseltown by honoring his maker.

As an aspiring stunt man, Newport native Chris Stout regularly lit his arms on fire and jumped out of moving cars. At age 6, he attempted to parachute from a second-story window with bed sheets.

He survived. Now 25, he has become a filmmaker, wrapping up his first work, “Nimrod,” last month.

The film tells the story of two college-aged characters: a sexually abused woman and the man who helps her. “I had a dream about a woman who had done something shameful,” Stout says. He woke up “watching a scene from a movie in his brain.” After sweating out a script and several revisions, the dream became “Nimrod.” (The title, which comes from a piece of music by Caroline Alice Elgar, refers to the hunter of the Old Testament.)

Stout never planned to start his career in Delaware, but, in 2002, after graduating from the University of Southern California’s acclaimed film school, he contracted Lyme disease and chronic fatigue syndrome. He moved home. His girlfriend dumped him.

He’d all but given up when faith intervened. “I woke with this restoration of my desire to make movies,” he says. Stout credits God, his friends, and parents Richard and Kathryn. Richard, an electrical contractor with a flair for pyrotechnics, helped his son produce Tarzan shorts and James Bond parodies in the early years. Kathryn is a renowned Christian educator and author of nine books.

While making “Nimrod,” Stout gelled with editor Dustin Carpio, which led to the creation of DVC Productions. So far, the company has produced a series of commercials for the Wilmington Music School. Ultimately they hope to have a moral impact on Hollywood by producing “God-honoring” films.

That’s an expensive proposition, which is why Stout is on the hunt for financial backing to turn “Nimrod” into a feature-length film.

He also wants a bungalow in Beverly Hills.

—Maria Hess

O’Brien has reached the summit of Washington’s Mount Rainer

more than 90 times during his career as a professional mountaineer.

Upscaling Kilimanjaro

A UD alumni trek to the roof of Africa goes uptown.

When 1995 University of Delaware graduate Tim O’Brien leads a group of fellow alumni to the icy summit of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro this month, his $5,000 per person “luxury trek” should prove more of a walk in the park than the typical mountain adventure.

“We’ll be eating banana flambé at 18,000 feet,” says O’Brien. “We’re using the Ritz Carlton of outfitters over there.”

On a traditional Kili climb, each person hosses 100 pounds of gear: 40 in a backpack and 60 on a sled. They also pitch and pack their own tents and prepare modest meals of noodles or rice. O’Brien’s hikin’ Hens will tote only lightweight backpacks. Dozens of porters will do the rest, lugging equipment, food for three-course gourmet meals and Porta-Potties to the 19,339-foot roof of Africa.

O’Brien, 33, a guide with renowned Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. of Washington state, is making his sixth trip to Kili. He says the dormant volcano is the easiest of the world’s Seven Summits (the highest peaks on each continent) to climb because of its relatively smooth terrain. He has already conquered Mount Elbrus in Russia and Denali (Mount McKinley) in Alaska.

O’Brien credits his uncle, a freelance adventure photographer, with sparking his interest in mountaineering. O’Brien made his first climbs while in high school. At UD, he worked at the rock climbing gym to hone his big-peak skills. He landed his dream job with RMI after competing with about 75 others for six guide positions.

After seven years, plenty of hard work and dues paying, O’Brien earned senior status, earning about $45,000 a year, not including tips. He and Ralph Viola, another UD alum, hatched the idea of this month’s trip. A portion of the proceeds will go to the UD Alumni Association, the trip’s sponsor.

O’Brien ranks his 90-plus ascents of Mount Rainier among his proudest accomplishments. Another is the recent birth of his daughter, Aidan. “I’ve been spending a lot of time with her,” he says. “Otherwise, I guarantee you I’d be up on Rainier right now.”

—Drew Ostroski

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