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Charity Spotlight: Ice Hockey In Harlem

Ice Hockey In Harlem Logo. Photo by: Stacy Podelski

Wednesday night in Central Park, under the lights of Lasker Rink runs a program that is not only 25-years-old, but a program that is unique to the area. That programs name is Ice Hockey In Harlem, and at the core of the non-profit organization are themes that stick with you for life.

Themes like family, commitment, dedication and giving back….all values being passed on to local area children, which will help in creating a better future, leaders and role models.

It all started in 1987 when co-founders Dave Wilk and Todd Levy with the help of former New York Rangers-star Pat Hickey gave a group of 40 participants, ranging in age from 9-12 knowledge of the sport of hockey.

Since that time the relationship between the New York Rangers and Ice Hockey In Harlem, has helped to make the program one of the most well-rounded athletic experiences-allowing children who may not have had the chance otherwise to gain invaluable experiences both education  and in community service.

“The New York Rangers have had a relationship with the Ice Hockey In Harlem since the beginning of the program,” said Ice Hockey In Harlem Program Director Jessica Murray. “They are big participants in not only our fundraising, but with the special events that they have for us throughout the year.”

One of the biggest events that the Blueshirts has held for the non-profit organization is the Winter Sports Auction, as members of the franchise will come out to interact with both participants and fans alike.

Not only do the Rangers help to raise funds, but there are also a ton of other special events that the franchise has held for the Ice Hockey In Harlem program.

“Each year they invite our program to send a team teams to play two periods on the Garden ice, which is great -our children love it is their favorite part of each season ,” Murray said of the special events that the Rangers hold with Ice Hockey In Harlem. “We have done clinics with them at Wollman Rink, they have invited us to their Skate with the Greats event and they also give us money for our scholarship program for our kids who we send away to school.”

Children like Sage A. Mason, who just started his first year at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exter, New Hampshire.  Mason and his mom Essence D. Crockett had been involved with the program for eight years, used a bit of his Spring Break time to give back to the program that helped him to find his passion in the world of sports.

“Ice Hockey in Harlem has been a phenomenal program,” Crockett had to say to 1495 Sports. “It has been a family unit, the education has been there, and the help the support and Sage have been able to meet some of the nicest coaches through the program.  He discovered at a young age that he loves the sport of hockey, he loved this program-the direction that it took him and the instruction that he received from his coaches.”

When asked if being a part of the Ice Hockey In Harlem program helped Sage in his High School application process, Crockett had this to say, “I think being a part of the program helped because during the process the people at the Phillips Exeter Academy were very impressed with his athletics background, and the continuity of being a part of the program for eight-nine years-was something that they thought was pretty amazing. Being a part of the Ice Hockey In Harlem program, showed not only dedication, but commitment and they were not only impressed with him for being a part of it-but they were impressed with the program as a whole.”

As the children on the ice were performing their best kangaroo hops and corkscrews it is easy to be impressed with the discipline on the ice. Once you dig deeper into the Ice Hockey In Harlem program though, it is the actives that are done educationally and the feeling of giving back and community that sticks with you.

Longtime hockey enthusiast, coach and teacher at P.S. 28 Rob Schoenbach shared with Examiner.com what the sport means to him, as well as the impact that Ice Hockey In Harlem has on the children in the community.

“I’ve been involved in the sport of hockey for my entire life, I’ve participated as both a coach and a player,” Schoenbach said of his on-ice experience. “When I started volunteering with the Ice Hockey in Harlem program, I was as a New York City Public School teacher in 1999, so for me it has been a nice mix of coaching and teaching.”

On what the sport of hockey has meant to him, the longtime coach had this to say, “The rink had always represented a place of family and community to me. When I was growing up my whole family spent time at the SportORama rink in Monsey, NY.  My father, brother and I spent many school holidays there and to still be able to play the sport of hockey has been special to me.”

The longtime school teacher spoke on how the program and the trips that they go one have impacted his kids at P.S. 28, “I remember during the months leading up to the Washington, DC trip, and it was great to see how excited they were. It was great all they wanted to do was learn more about the area and, what goes on there. We are trying to take them to different places and hopefully given them what we envision to be a well-rounded athletic experience.”

On the Ice Hockey in Harlem being just as much educational as it is athletics, Program Director Jessica Murray had this to say, “We try as much as possible to make the program have both the best in athletics and education. We have a class required for our 9-12 year old participants, and have a couple of options on when they take that class depending on where they go to school.”

Murray also told 1495 Sports about the Book Club that the Ice Hockey in Harlem program started, “One of our volunteer coaches, who is also a professor at Columbia thought of this program a few years ago, and is for our children 12-and-up. After a practice on Friday night, they will sit down with a hockey related book assigned for each season, and will read a chapter or two each week. Not only will they be discussing the book itself but the history of whatever hockey subject they are on.”

The best part is for anyone interested in participating everything from the equipment to the ice time, to the camps and educational program is free, and powered by people like Rob Schoenbach and Latiesha Cirino-Vargas, who is a Parent Coordinator with the program.

“The Ice Hockey In Harlem program has meant the world to me,” said Cirino-Vargas in a chat with 1495 Sports  The mother of two boys, Jarien Marquez (13) and Christian Vargas (8), Cirino-Vargas has been in the program for eight years and is always happy to share her experiences with incoming families.

“I know what it was like for me when I came into the program for the first time, my husband was working nights at that time-so I came in with my stroller, dripping with sweat trying to help my kids figure out how to put the gear on,” said Cirino-Vargas. “Since then the Ice Hockey In Harlem program has given me so much that do donate a bit of my time is the least that I can do.”

On how amazing it has been for herself and her family to have the different experiences with the Ice Hockey in Harlem program the mother of two had this to say, “It is really good for us as an African-American family to have had all of these different experiences, the vast amount of knowledge this program gives to the kids of minority is outstanding. Hockey here has no color, no boundaries and hockey really is for everyone.”

That was the true spirit seen on Wednesday night at Lasker Rink, the idea of community, family, grit, heart and spirit. In the day and age of technology and video games-there are in fact still places for children to for a positive outlet.

“It is a wonderful program for a child to learn and have this great camaraderie, great team atmosphere and I think the one thing about the kids here is that because of their diverse background they all meet on the ice and what I think they walk away with in terms of having a common mentality –they learn to really have grit and they stay with it,” said Essence D. Crocket of the Ice Hockey in Harlem program.

Crockett continued by saying, “I have seen the level of play progress from the time that these children were midgets to the bantam league grow to be more confident thanks to the Ice Hockey In Harlem program and that is a great thing, so I say meet us on the ice one night and we will skate together towards a brighter future.”

More information on the Ice Hockey In Harlem organization can be seen on their official site by clicking here:

http://www.icehockeyinharlem.org/

Written on March 8, 2012 also on the Examiner.com site seen here:
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