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S.C.O.R.E. Street Hockey Shootout Champs Spend 'Summer with the Cup'

by Jenelyn Russo / Special to AnaheimDucks.com

Hockey players and fans know summertime is when champions celebrate with the Stanley Cup. And while it might seem this time-honored tradition is reserved just for professional players, the members of the Friends Christian School street hockey team had a championship summer to remember all their own.

Last spring, the Yorba Linda-based school captured the title at the Anaheim Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Street Hockey Shootout tournament, an annual event that saw more than 260 fourth graders from 18 schools compete for the S.C.O.R.E. Cup. The Lions defeated reigning champion Davis Magnet School of Costa Mesa, 8-5, to claim the school's eighth title.

In its 10th year, the tournament is the culmination of the Anaheim Ducks S.C.O.R.E. (Scholastic Curriculum of Recreation & Education) street hockey physical education program, an initiative that nearly 60 schools and close to 14,000 elementary students, including 4,000 fourth graders, participate in each year.

Not only does the winner of the S.C.O.R.E. Cup receive their school and players' names engraved on the trophy, but the school keeps the prize until it is awarded again at next spring's tournament.

And that means some very deserving hockey players got to experience their own version of "summer with the Cup."

"It was the highlight of his summer," said Colette Smith, mother of Friends Christian street hockey team member Cooper Smith. "Hockey is huge for him."

Cooper and the rest of his Friends Christian teammates each got their turn with the S.C.O.R.E. Cup over the summer. Every player had the opportunity to spend a few days taking the trophy along on a number of adventures that, for Cooper, included everything from swimming to sleeping to grocery shopping.

"He brought 'Stan' (as Cooper affectionately called the trophy) with us everywhere we went," Smith said, "to the donut shop, even on a picnic and the swings at the park."

Like many of the students who participate in the Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Street Hockey curriculum, the program was Cooper's first exposure to the sport, and it was all he needed to develop a true love for hockey. The 11-year old now participates in an inline hockey program through The Rinks.

"The Ducks street hockey program at school was what gave him his initial interest in hockey," Smith said. "And it was his first chance to be on a school team and develop school pride."

Friends Christian street hockey team coach Seth McCraw said teamwork and the students' willingness to not only practice hard but to encourage each other were the keys to their team's success. Only two players had any prior hockey experience, and they often leaned on their school motto of "Speak Life" to build each other up.

"Not one player tried to win on their own, but everyone played a pivotal role in our success," McCraw said. "The players were always positive with each other, even when one would make a mistake. And they had fun. They wanted to learn the game with passion, and it showed on the court."

The S.C.O.R.E. Shootout tournament MVP - Friends Christian goaltender Hank Rygalski - was one of those players who had never tried hockey before the playing in the Ducks S.C.O.R.E. street hockey program through his school. He considers the MVP award to be the greatest honor he's ever received in sports.

"It felt awesome that other people thought my play and contributions to the team made a difference in the tournament," Rygalski said. "It provided a great opportunity to learn a new sport I wouldn't have tried. It's the most pumped up I've ever been playing a sport."

As one of the initial schools to implement the S.C.O.R.E. street hockey program ten years ago, McCraw acknowledged the curriculum has been a game-changer for Friends Christian and their students, sparking an interest in the sport as well as developing fans of Ducks hockey. Having coached the Lions' street hockey team for five years, McCraw himself came into the role with very little hockey knowledge but credits the Ducks organization and the program for giving him his own love for the sport.

"The Ducks have provided an opportunity for our students to participate in a sport that most would never try," McCraw said. "Having lessons designed with kindergarten through fourth grade in mind makes the game simple and achievable by all our students. On the first day of school, our students are asking when we are starting the hockey unit. We have truly been blessed for all the Ducks have done for our school."

Summer may be over, but the championship memories are not far from the minds of Cooper, Hank and the rest of the Friends Christian street hockey team.

"The Ducks are an amazing organization to be able to excite kids about hockey and teamwork," Smith said. "Every kid felt they were instrumental in winning the Cup. Our love for the sport has only grown. Cooper will remember this for the rest of his life."

For more information on the Anaheim Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program, visit ducksscore.com.

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