Seth McGraw dropped the orange ball for the first official game inside the street hockey rink on his campus and was overjoyed by what he was seeing.
McGraw is the PE coach for K through fourth grades at Friends Christian School in Yorba Linda, where the Ducks had just built a brand new street hockey rink through the organization's S.C.O.R.E. program.
A jubilant ceremony last Friday attended by students, alumni, parents and administrators officially inaugurated the rink at Friends Christian, to be used by the school to support its already-flourishing hockey program.
"It's a blessing," McCraw said while a spirited student pickup game went on behind him. "The kids love the game here. That's the first thing they ask me every year when we start school is, "When's hockey?" They all want to play, and they just love the sport. To have the Ducks come here and build a rink for the kids is awesome. I can't even put it into words what we're feeling."
McCraw's background in hockey is relatively new, since moving to Southern California from North Carolina 13 years ago. He learned the game through a friend who hailed from Canada, and through McCraw's work at Friends Christian, he became associated with the Ducks S.C.O.R.E. program.
Ducks S.C.O.R.E. (Scholastic Curriculum Of Recreation & Education) was developed by the organization in 2005 with the goal of making a positive impact with youth in local schools and hockey communities throughout Southern California. Based on the team's goals in the community and through funding from the Anaheim Ducks Foundation, Ducks S.C.O.R.E. has been made free of charge to all its participants. The Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Street Hockey program is currently implemented in 75 public and private schools throughout Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, designed to promote the game of hockey and physical fitness.
With the help of the NHL/NHLPA's Industry Growth Fund, the program has built four street hockey rinks in the past four years at area schools, and in conjunction with the Anaheim Ducks Foundation's Power Play! Project, 10 rinks have been built since 2012.
Among the countless students who have benefited are McCraw's nine-year-old son, Tyler, and seven-year-old daughter, Adelynn. Both have both gone through the Ducks organization's Learn to Play program, with Tyler in his fifth season of roller hockey (and recently taking up ice hockey) and Adelynn in her fifth. "We all love it so much," says Seth, who is beginning his eighth year of coaching hockey at Friends Christian. "It's such a great sport and a great opportunity for these kids."
As a fourth-grader, Tyler will get a chance to join the Friend Christian team for the annual Ducks S.C.O.R.E Shootout, a street hockey tournament held every spring at Honda Center that includes close to 500 fourth-graders from about three dozen schools. Friends Christian has a grand tradition in the S.C.O.R.E Shootout, having won an astounding eight championships in the tournament's first 11 years of existence. The players from each championship team get their names engraved on the coveted S.C.O.R.E. Shootout Cup. (Players from these teams have continued on to compete in the Anaheim Ducks i3 League for roller hockey players in grades five through eight.)
The S.C.O.R.E Shootout tournament MVP during their first title run was a fourth-grader named Cam York, an Anaheim Hills native who just last June was selected 14th overall in the NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. "That was awesome," McCraw says. "To see a Friends alumni be drafted into the big time is so great."
York is in school at the University of Michigan and wasn't among the numerous Friends Christian alums who attended Friday's ceremony, a turnout that delighted principal Becki Crandall. "It's very exciting," Crandall said. "I love seeing eighth graders and high school students who played here, who have their names on that trophy, come back for this. That's a legacy that lives on."
Crandall is in her fourth year as principal at Friends Christian, but she witnessed the hockey program thrive during her previous tenure as an elementary teacher at the school. "I think it's a really unique program that puts boys and girls together on a level playing field," she said. "We have really great support from our PE teachers and the staff. The kids love it and can't wait to play. They start dreaming about it in kindergarten, talking about hockey. It's amazing to think of what these kids have accomplished."
She says having a brand new rink on campus is, "Just going to perpetuate their love of hockey. It's a great thing for the Ducks to get out into the community and get kids interested in the game in an area where hockey wasn't a big deal 20 years ago. Now it's a huge deal for kids as young as kindergarten. We're very excited about this."