Fred Hudson

Fred Hudson

  • Year Inducted : 2016
  • Sport : hockey

About Inductee


With apologies to Mark Twain and King Arthur, this is a story about how "A Connecticut Yankee in Wernher von Brauns Court" came to be known as the "Father of Huntsville Hockey." Fred Hudson, an electrical engineer who grew up in New Haven in the 1930s and 40s and earned college degrees at the University of Connecticut and Syracuse University, came to Huntsville in the early 60s as part of the IBM Corporations contribution to NASAs Apollo moon project. In subsequent years, he would play an integral role in the navigation and guidance system of Von Brauns Saturn V rocket, and later he worked into the 80s in the Skylab and Space programs. One Sunday afternoon in 1962, Hudson took his two young sons, Erick and Dean, to a small downtown skating rink called the Ice Palace. Ben Wilcoxon, owner of the place, knew Hudson had once played ice hockey in high school and college. That day, Wilcoxon approached his friend with a question: "Would you be interested in starting up a YMCA youth hockey program here in town?" Hudson smiled. "It had been a while since I had skated," he told former Huntsville newspaperman Bud McLaughlin in a 2014 interview, "but I guess it looked to Ben like I knew what I doing." Hudson accepted on the spot. By the next day, Huntsville YMCA Director Laurence Cross had signed up 60 kids to play the winter sport of hockey. Several locals, including Ed Ragland, Roger Julien and David Gregory, volunteered to help. Cross supplied the start-up equipment. At their first practice, Hudson lined up the 60 youngsters on the ice and blew his whistle. Half of them promptly fell down. Only one, the son of a Canadian soldier stationed at Redstone Arsenal, skated to the other end of the ice. This isnt going to be easy, Hudson said to himself. Within two years, however, a group of Huntsville players was invited to an international Silver Stick tournament. Soon, the city was asked to host a Silver Stick tournament and its still here, a half-century later. "Our objective in those early days was to get all our travel teams competitive with the best hockey programs of equal size in other places," Hudson said. "By the mid-70s, three of our teams the Pee Wees (ages 11-12), the Bantams (ages 13-14) and the Midgets (ages 15-16) had met the criteria." One of his biggest moments, Hudson said, was the day he realized the 11- and 12-year old kids in Huntsvilles youth hockey program were good enough to play with anybody. That day came in the mid-70s when a Pee Wee team from Huntsville played an all-star team from Detroit, losing two games by only a single goal each time. "The tournament director and the Detroit coach were very impressed," said Hudson. "They couldnt believe what they saw from a bunch of kids from the South. Thats when I knew we had arrived. We were now competitive with the better youth hockey organizations in the country. Over the years, our Huntsville teams have played with distinction in Canada, Boston, New Jersey, Ohio, Atlanta, Knoxville, Washington, Charlotte, Maryland, Virginia, St. Louis and Michigan." The program Fred Hudson started quickly outgrew the YMCA and led to the formation of the Huntsville Amateur Hockey Association (HAHA), now called NAHA (North Alabama Hockey Association). NAHA currently has about 800 players of all ages. One of Hudsons first players in the early days was Joe Ritch, now a prominent local attorney. In 1979, Ritch started a club hockey program at UAH and coached three national championship club teams over the next five years. After UAH gained varsity status in 1984, former Olympian Doug Ross was hired as coach, and his teams won two NCAA Division II national championships before eventually moving up to Division I. In 1993, the Blast first of several pro hockey franchises (remember the Channel Cats and the Tornado?) were the forerunners of the present-day Havoc. It all became part of the fabric of Huntsvilles nickname as the "Hockey Capital of the South," and it all began with Fred Hudson. "This recognition is long overdue," said Bud McLaughlin. "If not for Fred, there might not have ever been a hockey community in Huntsville. We wouldve missed a lot." Hudson and Betty, his wife of 62 years, still live in Huntsville, as do two of their three children. Their daughter Pamela is the CEO at Crestwood Hospital. A footnote: Pamelas father still skates and plays competitive hockey in the local Senior Open League at the sprightly age of 87.

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