Mary Cicinelli & Tony von Ondarza

Indispensable is a strong word to use but sometimes it is the case that an organization has a few key people without whom it would not flourish.

That is the case with two of the Pan American Hockey Federation’s (PAHF) stalwart volunteers – Mary Cicinelli and Tony von Ondarza.

Both Mary and Tony have spent most of their adult lives involved in hockey in some capacity, at club, regional, country and confederation level. They are two of an immense army of volunteers that the sport relies on to operate at all levels. Without coaches, umpires, club officials, administrators and pitch-side/game-day service providers, the sport simply would not survive. And it is this army of people that International Volunteer Day is celebrating.

While PAHF acknowledges and thanks the amazing group of people who make up its hockey community, it has elected to tell Mary and Tony’s story as a representation of the work that all volunteers do on behalf of the sport. And also as an indicator of just where involvement in the sport can take you.

Mary Cicinelli’s early life as a hockey volunteer largely involved having a whistle in her hand. From 1990 onwards she moved through the ranks to umpire at all levels of the game, club to country. However, running alongside that, the human resources specialist was also honing her team management skills and, in 1986, was Team Manager for the Canadian women’s team as they competed in the 1986 World Cup in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

As a high-flying human resources manager, and eventually director, Mary had all the skills of diplomacy, communication and organization needed to be a national team manager and so it was a role she fulfilled for Canada for four years, including at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Soon however, her administrative capabilities meant that Mary was drawn into other positions within hockey. Among the numerous roles she held during the 1990s and early part of the 21st century were: President of Field Hockey Ontario; Field Hockey Canada (FHC) voting member on the Canadian Olympic Committee; Board of Director FHC; and President FHC.

At the same time, Mary was also gaining more experience on the wider international scene. She has been technical official at a number of international events and was chair of the Sport Organizing Committee at the 2015 Pan Am Games, Toronto Ontario.

She joined PAHF on the Executive Board in 2010 and has held a position there ever since. During that time, she has fulfilled many roles for the continental federation, including as Event Evaluation Panel Member and in a perfect mix of her professional career and volunteering activities, as Chair of the Human Resources Committee - a position she has held since 2012.

Despite three decades of steadfast service, Mary is as busy as ever. Besides the PAHF roles already mentioned, she is also Honorary Treasurer for the PAHF Foundation for the Promotion & Development of Hockey (FIH Foundation) and Board Member on the Foundation for the Promotion & Development of Hockey (FIH Foundation).

She also spent six years in various roles on the International Hockey Federation Executive Board, where she proved she was much more than a figure-head – taking a hands-on approach to help FIH staff and local organizing committees to showcase the sport she has dedicated such an impressive amount of time to.

If Mary’s contribution to PAHF have spanned three decades, she is almost a new recruit when Tony von Ondarza’s years of involvement are counted up.

Tony played his formative years of hockey in Germany and England but it was a move to Venezuela that signaled the start of a lifetime dedicated to hockey. At the time, hockey was mostly played by ex-pats from Europe. In Venezuela, most of the hockey action took place at the Caracas Sports Club.

“I started to play hockey and I got involved in the club. I took over the hockey section and then became President of the club,” says Tony. “We played other teams from the Caribbean, and then we had a visit from Argentina. Our club had fantastic grass pitches, much better than in Argentina, so they used to make trips to Venezuela as they were on their way to matches in Europe or the USA.”

This international contact proved a pivotal point in Venezuela’s hockey history because the experience that Tony was gaining from visits to Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, combined with the visits from Argentina national teams, gave him the confidence to drive hockey forwards and eventually to form the Venezuela Hockey Association.

This started a chain of events that saw Tony join the FIH in 1978, firstly on a committee and then onto the Executive Board. In 1986 he was voted Vice President of the FIH, a position he held until 2013.

Tony’s involvement in PAHF began a year later in 1979. While at the Pan American Games, a conversation with FIH President Rene Frank was enough to persuade both the PAHF Board and Tony that they were a natural fit. Eight years later and Tony was President of the PAHF, a position he held for 28 years.

“My greatest pride comes from getting more nations playing hockey,” he says. “We [the continental federations] were asked to get more nations involved in hockey and, through the people I knew, we were able to get more nations playing, especially across South America and Central America.

“That was my greatest pride but it was also the greatest challenge,” he adds.

“Put aside the challenges of the role, the greatest pleasure I have derived from my involvement in hockey has been the friends I have made around the world. We have a great sport and we have to maintain the values of our sport.”

We asked Tony what advice he would give to someone who wanted to take on a voluntary role within an organization such as PAHF. After jokingly replying that they must be mad, he said: “It is something that is very much down to you. Everybody will take a different path. The most difficult thing is starting. You have to jump into it. But hockey is a good sport for that. People will welcome you. It is very friendly. And I believe that if you all make an effort to get along then most problems can be solved.”