World championships bring top air hockey players to Chapel Hills Mall

July 31, 2016 Updated: August 1, 2016 at 1:48 pm
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Brandin Hedrick, right, competes in the finals of the 2016 AHPA Air Hockey World Championship amateur singles tournament at Chapel Hills Mall on Sunday, July 31, 2016. Hedrick won the tournament and a Dynamo table. Photo by Ryan Jones, The Gazette.

Colin Cummings lifted the championship cup with pride, defending his Air Hockey Players Association world championship Sunday at the Chapel Hills Mall.

Brandon Hedrick had just the same amount of joy. Except it's hard to hoist a Valley-Dynamo pro style table.

In eight short months, the 24-year-old Hedrick went from a player with no skill to this weekend's top amateur player - one without previous experience in big events - in the tournament, which was affiliated with the 15th annual Rocky Mountain State Games.

And thanks to the AHPA's recent partnership with Valley-Dynamo, the table is going back to Chicago as the amateur top prize for Hedrick, who works as a web developer at a consulting firm.

"I faced some really good players here," said Hedrick, who said he'd hire the freight company that delivered the other tables to the Chapel Hills Mall to transport his table. "I went into it not expecting to win any of the matches."

Last year, Cummings became the youngest air hockey world champion, as verified by Guinness World Records. On Sunday, the AHPA's top-ranked player finished his assault of the 32-player field undefeated, and no one could get in his way, not even his father, Mike.

"When I was a little kid, I remember walking up to the tables and seeing these huge giants battling it out for a trophy," Cummings said. "I realized I could do this one day. I had no idea I'd win it all at just 16 years old, but it hasn't changed me a bit. I still like to play with my friends and hang out and just be a kid. It is special that I can do something that I love and have fun at the same time."

Before Cummings can think about a three-peat, much bigger things are on the horizon for this senior at Monsignor Kelly Catholic High School in Beaumont, Texas.

The three-sport athlete - he also plays soccer and is a long-distance runner - is completing paperwork in hopes of receiving an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

If that happens, he'll have to leave the family table at home, but he'll be sure to dispel the stereotypes that air hockey is not a serious sport that requires discipline and commitment.

"I tell people that this is the fastest game you could possibly play in your life," Cummings said. "It takes mental and physical energy. We take it seriously. You're always thinking, and you need to outthink your opponent before he outthinks you. When I'm not playing, I like to invite people who are watching to come down and play, to see what it's like."

The AHPA, founded by California native and Highlands Ranch resident Chris Lee and Houstonian Brian Accrocco, broke away from the U.S. Air Hockey Association, in existence for more than four decades, in 2014.

"We didn't see a whole lot of changes, and no one knew the sport existed," Lee said. "We got fed up, so we did our own thing. We sent footage to ESPN, and they aired the winning goal from last year on their top 10 plays. This year, we have a journalist from CNN here. If more people know the sport exists, maybe more will play."

And that includes Colin's younger brother, Connor. He's 14 and ascending the ranks, hopeful of perhaps equaling his older brother's accomplishments in the future.

"I'll beat him someday," Connor said.

"That's what he says," Colin quipped back.

Ryan Jones contributed to this report

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