As part of their community outreach, the MSU Club hockey team organized a toy drive to benefit the St. Joseph's Children's Hospital. (Photo / MSU Club Hockey Team)
For the Montclair State University club team, hockey isn’t just a passion and a sport they play, it is a platform that they use to make the area around them a better place. This is a program begins on the ice, but extends into the community.
After a coaching switch resulted in Robert Martinez taking over as head coach, the team’s focus slowly changed from solely ice hockey to more philanthropic activities.
“We were lucky enough to get the program on the ice to where we wanted it to be and I figured that we needed to have an additional focus. One that kind of was a gratifying thing, a rewarding thing and more importantly a thing that could benefit the community,” said Martinez. “So with changing the titles of head coaches, this was my little stamp on the program.”
|Captain Cody Inglis helping the young skaters from the Father English Center during the team's Learn to Skate program. (Photo / MSU Club Hockey Team) |
Teaming up with the Father English Center in Paterson, New Jersey, the players began with a learn to skate program, which eventually grew into multiple events throughout the year.
“We chose a program that we thought was most in need and that was overlooked. A lot of people do things for the Boys and Girls Club and the Police Athletic League and those are programs for kids that often have the resources. They use those things for daycare,” explained Martinez. “We wanted to get involved with the youth and introduce a sport they’re not exposed to, but for kids that really need it. When we visited Father English for the first time, it was evident a lot of them come from minimal to no means and they needed a lot of support to stay afloat.”
The Red Hawks’ efforts over the past few years certainly haven’t gone unnoticed.
At this year’s 2014 American Collegiate Hockey Association National Conference tournament the team was the recipient of the Division II Community Service Award.
“It’s pretty gratifying to know they were eligible of 172 teams and recognized on that large of a scale because they really do, I feel in our area especially, go above and beyond in terms of the diversity of projects they do,” said Martinez.
Martinez has really found a drive in his players to continue with the community service work, but they are also gunning for the ACHA’s overall award, which was given to this year’s DI winner, Indiana University.
“A lot of them, their reaction [when they found out about the award] was, ‘What do we need to do to get that overall award,’ because that’s what they really wanted,” said Martinez of his team’s drive to do more. “It’s not about them; it’s an accomplishment to get the big award next year, so a lot of them reacted more competition driven. They want to be the big winners next year.”
That competitive drive instilled in all athletes has proven to be a real benefit for the New Jersey community, as each player is required to log at least 40 hours of community service a season following the ACHA’s calendar year of March to March.
Their community service ventures began with a Learn to Skate partnership with the Father English Center, but now also includes a Red Hawk reading project, which offers after school tutoring, and a toy drive benefiting St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital. The Red Hawks collected almost 300 toys for the children, but their charity work doesn’t end there.
|The community service has also brought the Red Hawks closer together as a unified team. The once shy athletes are taking initiative to go and do as much as they can for their community. (Photo / MSU Club Hockey Team) |
In November the team organized a food drive to benefit the Paterson Food Bank System. At the end of the collection they had 1,800 pounds of food to deliver which equates to 1,500 meals. The team then worked with the Campus Recreation department at MSU to have the funds from the Red Hawk 5K runs donated to the Father English Center.
“The Campus Rec Department of Montclair State has helped us tremendously. They donated the proceeds of their 5k to the Father English Center and they support all the programs we do … So without the partnership we have with Campus Recreation here, the program really doesn’t come out of the gate as quick as it has. This is not only a team award, it’s a university award with all the people that we partner with as well,” said the MSU head coach.
In an effort to do more and get that overall award, the team has plans to do a t-shirt fundraiser this October to raise money for either St. Jude’s or the Lustgarten Foundation for pancreatic cancer. Then, following the November food drive and the December toy drive there are plans for a January and February coat drive.
The community service not only makes an impact on the community but on the team dynamic as well.
“Amongst those players there’s really kind of a bonding experience and that’s the incentive they push on their teammates. If you were one of the odd men out who doesn’t do these things as frequently, they kind of get on you a little bit more to do it because they want you to be a part of it and that brings them together as well.”
The charity work brings the MSU players out of their comfort zones to really make a difference. Teaming with the University’s Campus Recreational Department the Red Hawks show no sign of slowing down, both on and off the ice.
Do not be surprised if it is their name that gets called at next year’s National Conference.
For more, head to NJ Youth Hockey Central.