Hockey is for everyone. Those four words aren't just the name of an NHL program focused on diversity. For John Haferman, director of the Columbus Ice Hockey Club (CIHC), they are a philosophy. His execution of that mission is what made the CIHC a natural choice for a $5,000 grant as part of the NHL Centennial Tour.
As the tour visits each NHL city in North America celebrating the League's 100 years, the NHL is making a donation to a local nonprofit that focuses on diversity and inclusion in the game of hockey.
Under Haferman's leadership, CIHC has provided many programs within the sport including sled hockey, teams for young women and girls, and hockey for children with special needs.
"The whole reason CIHC started is because someone told me you could never get African-American kids to play hockey," Haferman said. "Then the League did Hockey is for Everyone. There is always a group that seems to be needing to be included."
One of the children CIHC brought to the game is Corbin, the son of Cassie and Christy Davis.
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Christy received tickets to attend a Blue Jackets game when Corbin was just 2 years old, and he was instantly hooked. If there was a chance to see a game, he wanted to be there.
But when it came time to introduce Corbin, an African American, to the ice, the family hit a road block.
"We got him into hockey knowing he had this interest and passion," Cassie said. "But we had tried to get him on the ice to learn how to skate, and he wouldn't get on the ice.
"We wondered what was going on and he said, 'There's no one that looks like me.' We looked around and said, 'Oh my gosh, you're right, buddy.'"
That led the family to seek out a hockey program that didn't just focus on sport, but also focused on diversity. CIHC did both.
"They found us," Haferman said. "Then they got really comfortable that we didn't care that it was two white moms and a little African American boy. They were never treated like it was different or special, Corbin was simply included."
Video: Blue Jackets celebrate Hockey Is For Everyone month
Now six years old, Corbin suits up with his fellow mites in a group of players that includes children of all races and gender. Ask him why he likes hockey and his answer is simply, "It's a good sport and you can get better at it."
"This is a hockey family," Cassie said. "That's the great thing about the club. It's not just the diversity of black and white or Hispanic, there are girls involved, there's gender diversity as well. I love that it's so open and relaxed and easy. I have never, not one time, felt unwelcome."
Cassie says she does not know if Corbin would have been able to fulfill his love of hockey without the club. She fights back emotion as she shares how excited Corbin was to see Seth Jones join his favorite team, the Blue Jackets. As she praises the friendships her son has made through the club, she mentions one of Corbin's favorite buddies who just happens to be a young girl on his team.
And it's all a credit to the hard work of the coaches and leadership of CIHC, including Haferman. They have made diversity and inclusion key components of the program simply by making sure that hockey truly was for everyone.
"It's always been about for us that if something is wrong, and we have a way to help fix it, then that's what we do," Haferman said. "Looking back, (our growing diversity) is one of the great things we've done, but it's not just me, it's people we get involved in the program.
"It's not like I have this big grand idea of how to fix the world's problems. But there's always ways that seem logical to help, and we get the right people involved with us. Then doors continue to open.
"We're not willing to let a door close."
The NHL will be presenting the grant at the NHL Centennial Fan Arena on Saturday at 2 p.m. For more information on this weekend's events, click here.