WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an effort to get inner city youths to aim for the goal of higher education through the game of hockey, the National Hockey League and Thurgood Marshall College Fund teamed up Wednesday to announce a new scholarship for hockey-playing youths.
If anyone harbored any notions that hockey won’t ever catch on in the “hood,” those notions were thoroughly thrashed by several individuals who attended the kickoff event held in a congressional hearing room on Capitol Hill.
They included college aspiring youths such as Dishawn Jackson, 17, a 6-foot-3 center not for anyone’s basketball team, but as a member of one of the after-school hockey teams run by the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation in Philadelphia.
Jackson said the scholarship opportunity announced Wednesday would make a world of difference in his plans to pursue a higher education.
“I want to apply for as many scholarships as I can,” Jackson said during an interview with Diverse.
If he wins the scholarship when it is offered starting in 2013, Jackson said, “That would mean a lot to me.”
“Nobody in my family graduated from college,” Jackson said. “I would be the first one to go to college and, on top of that to get a scholarship, that would be amazing.”
Jackson said he was initially cold toward the game of hockey when he first got introduced to it at an after-school program in North Philadelphia at the age of 13.
“When I first heard about it, I’m like, ‘I’m Black. I don’t play hockey,’” Jackson said. But after he put on the skates and got on the ice, his reservations soon thawed because it was “something new.”
He credits the game with turning his life around and keeping him out of trouble.
“My grades got better and I’m more disciplined,” Jackson said.
Jackson is by no means alone.
Similar stories are being captured by documentarian Sean McKoy, president of Reel McKoy Media, who is making a series of segments titled “Changing the FACE-OFF the Game” as part of the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” campaign.
Of the 3,000 youths in Philadelphia who play in the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, roughly 45 percent are African-American or Hispanic, said Jim Britt, vice president and chief operating officer of the foundation.
Britt emphasized the dangers of making assumptions when it comes to hockey and inner city youth.
Regarding the new scholarship, he said, “It’s a tremendous opportunity.”
“One of the challenges that Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation has faced is kids don’t know what opportunities are out there,” Britt said. “They’re not getting information through their schools.”
“Something like the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund opens up worlds to kids that simply weren’t on their radars,” he added.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, admitted that he himself harbored skepticism about hockey’s ability to gain any traction among Black youths.
But once he attended a game at Madison Square Garden and learned more about the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone Campaign, his perception changed.
“I heard this constant phrase: ‘Hockey is for everyone,’” Taylor recalled. “It didn’t take long before I was chanting.”
Taylor eventually linked up with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and invited him to serve on the board of directors at the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund.
Bettman accepted and made it known that he wanted to be involved in a meaningful way, not just in name.
Bettman said the game of hockey teaches valuable principles such as teamwork and perseverance.
“It’s about more than scoring goals,” Bettman said. “It’s about essential life skills.”
Congressman Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) a former professional hockey referee and a member of the Congressional Hockey Caucus, said the scholarship “creates a continuum in which it’s not just the possibility to see a young inner city man have the opportunity to play in the NHL, but to see someone from that background come in and be the commissioner one day.”
“With this kind of an opportunity, that’s not unrealistic,” Meehan said.
The NHL-Thurgood Marshall College Fund Scholarship will be available beginning in 2013 for the 2013-14 school year. Bettman said $100,000 has already been raised for the scholarship fund through the Congressional Hockey Challenge.
Taylor said the scholarship will be open to youths who apply to any college but that preference would be given to those who opt to go to one of the 47 public HBCUs that are members of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
The scholarship will cover all four years of college but winners must maintain a 3.0 GPA to keep the scholarship.
The scholarship will be announced again at the March 4 Congressional Hockey Challenge at the Verizon Center.
Taylor said that, while HBCUs don’t have hockey teams, he noted they didn’t have golf teams or lacrosse teams at one point but that has changed over time.
He said that the hockey scholarship is a short-term tactic in a long-range plan to get hockey-playing youths to HBCU campuses to potentially make hockey a part of HBCU sports.
“Our goal is to have hockey clubs on our campuses, but you have to get kids into the system, get hockey-interested kids into the HBCU environment, then HBCUs can take it from there,” Taylor said.