The Capital City Crew, so named by the 32, 8-to-13-year-old participants, succeeded because it had all those elements.
The Capital City Crew is a first-year, learn-to-play hockey program supported by the NHL Hockey Is For Everyone Initiative, the NHLPA, the Carolina Hurricanes Kids 'N Community Foundation, the Wake County Boys and Girls Clubs and the Raleigh Youth Hockey Association. It is the first such program in the Southeastern United States.
The kids will be honored Tuesday night during the intermissions of the Hurricanes' game against the Florida Panthers. The group is being split so they can play two, 3 1/2 minute scrimmages. One of the players, Gideon Barine, will join the Hurricanes on the blue before the game for the National Anthem.
"I spoke with Rob Wooley from the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone Initiative, at the 2007 league meetings about a program like this and then came back and talked to Paul Strand, the youth and amateur hockey coordinator for the Hurricanes," Hurricanes Director of Community Relations and Executive Director of the Carolina Hurricanes' Kids 'N Community Foundation Doug Warf said. "We knew John Scott, a youth-hockey coach with a background of using life skills in hockey instruction. He was teaching in our learn-to-play program. John was excited and we asked him to partner with the Boys and Girls Clubs. Beyond that, John has run with it."
Run Scott did.
The half-dozen clubs within the Wake Country Boys and Girls Clubs selected 40 students screened for athletic ability, work ethic, competitiveness, perseverance and character, said Hugh McLean, vice president of operations, Wake County Boys & Girls Club.
"The kids that we served, without this opportunity, probably would have never been exposed to ice hockey," McLean said. "The Hurricanes have been nice to us and got us involved in a little street hockey or deck hockey or floor hockey, so the kids have had a stick in their hands, but as far as an opportunity to play ice hockey, it probably never would have been within the realm of possibility for the kids that we have.
"I think our earlier involvement with the Hurricanes with some street-hockey stuff made us a logical choice for this Hockey Is For Everyone program and the Capital City Crew. We didn't know exactly how it would go because the kids have never been on ice or never been exposed to anything like that. We were pleasantly surprised at how the kids took to it and the effort they put into it. You need to have perseverance because those first two practices on the ice were meeting a lot more failures than success and so we were really proud of the kids.
"The volunteers were extremely dedicated to this program. There was a large, large number of them so that helped the kids be successful as well because the people were dedicated to the program. We had 30 kids on the ice and at every practice there had to be between 10 and 15 volunteers on the ice helping them from the locker room, putting on the equipment and, on the ice, helping them learn skills.
"The volunteers come from a lot of different areas. We had a very diverse group, mostly African-American boys and girls, but we had Hispanics and Latino kids and others. We had a couple of African-American hockey coaches and some women."
The involved administrators began meeting last March and there was a off-ice prep program during the summer. Then, the kids were asked for some input.
"Another cool thing was that the kids got to choose the name and the logo for their team so they had some ownership of the Capital City Crew," McLean said. "Everything was positive about this experience. The experience our kids had, our organization had working with the Crew, working with the volunteers, working with the Hurricanes has been absolutely dynamite."
The season was divided by eight weeks of on-ice instruction and eight weeks of off-ice training in improved life skills.
"A standard must be met regarding grades and behavior," Scott said. "Steve Danish wrote the curriculum for First Tee. We brought him to N.C. State with his former student, Tanya Forneris, now a professor at the University of Ottawa. With Michael Kanters, they trained our volunteers to be life-skill coaches. Every session included life-skills training, managing emotions, healthy living habits, nutrition, setting goals, confidence and courage, and problem solving. The kids would get three of four bullet points on a topic and then do activities."
McLean said that process provided an unexpected and most welcome benefit to all the Boys and Girls Clubs programs.
"You have this wonderful hockey program but it went a little further than that," McLean said. "When we moved off the ice for those eight weeks, with N.C. State putting together the Life Skills Program, we were able to get some of our students involved and some of the older teenagers got trained in that program. So, it actually gave some of the kids in the Boys and Girls Club, who weren't involved in the hockey program, some leadership skills and opportunities. So, it's a pretty far-reaching program for our area."
"We want to develop what a HIFE program should look like. We want to track everything and give the NHL a good template on how to initiate and implement a successful program that incorporates life skills and hockey instruction." -- John Scott
The kids were given a special treat recently when they held a practice session at the RBC Center, the home to Hurricanes hockey and N.C. State basketball. But they didn't know they would be joining Hurricanes captain Eric Staal until he skated out with them.
"Eric Staal got his equipment company to help some with the Capital City Crew," McLean said. "The equipment was welcome but I think the best part was the individual attention the kids got from a player they knew and liked."
Staal donated more than half of the player equipment required in the program. The NHLPA also donated equipment. The NHL Hockey Is For Everyone Initiative donated funds for the ice time. The Boys and Girls Clubs are there for the kids year-round. Each group contributed something to the success and the value of the volunteers cannot be underestimated. That's hands-on attention.
Scott and McLean said they and others will be contributing to a manual that will guide the program in the future. McLean said the first-year's experience will influence the approach they take to a second season. Scott said some of the Capital City Crew players may be ready to move on to house-league teams in the Raleigh area. The Hurricanes will continue to financially assist any player who goes that route. Someday, they may produce enough players to fill their own teams.
Next year, they plan to increase the group size to 45 players and to a dozen sessions over a double-ice slot. That way, half the group can be on the ice while the other half is in the classroom. Then, they'll switch.
"The improvement we saw from week 1-to-8 was pretty dramatic," Warf said. "They were so adamant about getting it right and the coaches did such a great job. We talked early about having enough on-ice instructors so that no kid got lost. I thought we did that well in bringing the kids along."
"We want to develop what a HIFE program should look like," Scott said. "We want to track everything and give the NHL a good template on how to initiate and implement a successful program that incorporates life skills and hockey instruction," Scott said.
The Capital City Crew players include Aaron Rosa, Calef Taylor, Jalen Williams, Kelyn Jones, Khalil Gary, Patrick Rosa, Saheed Lucas, Christopher Robles, Eric Robles, Anna Barrios, Faison Brock, Gideon Barine, Austin Tatum, Zachary Lankford, Brandon Panameno, Austin Panameno, Sam McPhillips, Caitlin McPhillips, Donald Hartsfield, Makenzie Jarrett, Emani Smalls, Tonisha Williams, De'Andra White, Synclair Pender, Antonio Tomlinson, Hykeem Alston, Christen Greene, Christopher Greene, Jermiah Walker, Rick Hayes, Jaquell Ferrell, Omar Perez, Faison Brock, Gideon Barine, Zachary Lankford, Brandon Panameno, Austin Panameno, Tonisha Williams, Christen Greene, Rick Hayes, Jaquell Ferrell, Khalil Gary, Christopher Robles, Anna Barrios, Synclair Pender, and Saheed Lucas.