William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog since 2012. Douglas joined in 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, as part of's celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, he profiles Colorado Extreme, a free youth hockey program that's trying to grow the sport within a Hispanic community near Aspen.

Carlos Ross thought it was a practical joke.

The former college hockey player received a LinkedIn message in June 2021, asking whether he'd be interested in moving from Buffalo to the Aspen, Colorado, area to coach in a new hockey program aimed toward getting more Hispanic kids involved in the sport.

"I thought it was my friends playing a prank on me," Ross said. "I was, like, 'This sounds a little too good to be true.'"

Ross is in his third season as hockey operations manager for Colorado Extreme, a diverse program in Carbondale, Colorado, that provides free ice time, equipment and instruction to children 10 and under. A program that started out with a handful of children in a tiny second-hand outdoor rink in 2021 has grown to more than 500 participants this season, about 20 percent of whom are Hispanic.

Colorado Extreme officials say they expect the number of kids to grow to 1,000 later this season when a smaller adjacent natural ice rink freezes.

"It was definitely challenging at the beginning," Ross said. "The Hispanic community is a very tight-knit community out here. I had to make sure I earned their trust, speaking with local Latino organizations here, especially organizations that help families coming from south of the border assimilate to United States life, getting jobs.

"It's been super-rewarding seeing people that probably never would play hockey go from learn-to-skate then to a stick in their hand to seeing them enjoy the game we all enjoy so much," he said.


The program reached a Rocky Mountain high when its Under-10 A team won the Colorado Amateur Hockey Association championship in March.

"There were a lot of tears in the dressing room from me, the coaches, the kids," Extreme president Sheldon Wolitski said. "It really created a huge bond and, ultimately, makes everything worthwhile."

Colorado Extreme is Wolitski's baby. The 51-year-old Calgary native is the founder and board chairman of the Select Group and a former defenseman who played for the University of Alabama in Huntsville's NCAA Division II men's team from 1992-96.

Crediting hockey for playing a major role in his business success and personal growth, Wolitski sought to expand the sport in Carbondale, about 30 miles northwest of Aspen, when his family relocated from Raleigh, North Carolina.

"Once we started doing research on the demographics, realizing that there was a lack of diversity in the other neighboring programs," he said. "We have about a 40 percent Hispanic population in the Mid-Valley, and we really wanted to focus that attention on bringing more attention to the sport."

Wolitski proceeded to match his money with his convictions. He bought an old oval-shaped half-sized rink in Omaha, Nebraska, and had it moved to Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel, Colorado, in 2021. He later purchased a $2.6 million tract of land just outside of Carbondale and installed an NHL-sized rink, with boards salvaged from a facility in Denver, that opened in November. He bought a large shade canopy that was placed above the rink and allowed Colorado Extreme to lay ice after Labor Day, despite sunshine and warm temperatures, after he saw how a similar setup at the outdoor Sun Valley Ice Rink in Idaho allows it to operate year-round.


Wolitski estimates that he has spent about $3 million on the program, excluding the land purchase, but the money didn't immediately translate into success when it came to attracting Hispanics.

Basically, Wolitski built it, and they didn't come.

"We made some mistakes early on…our early numbers weren't where they needed to be where we set our goals of 20 percent-plus diversity," he said. "We had to learn early on how to break into that Hispanic community. We had to change the way we were approaching it."

Ross was a key. The son of Andrea Marcela Morales-Ross, a dentist from Tampico, Mexico, and Rick Ross, a white hockey coach of Italian heritage from Buffalo, the younger Ross grew up in a multicultural household.

Rick Ross played for and coached teams in Europe before he became coach of SUNY Brockport's NCAA Division III men's hockey team from 1989-96.

Carlos Ross inherited his father's love of hockey and was good enough to be a forward for Western New England University from 2015-19. He had 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 80 games for the NCAA Division III school in Springfield, Massachusetts.


The 29-year-old Brockport, New York, native had embarked on a post-college career in data analytics when he received Wolitski's LinkedIn message inviting him to join Colorado Extreme.

"I never had a Hispanic coach, I never had Latino teammates, not until I was older," Ross said, "so hearing someone say they want to spend their own personal money in helping Hispanics get into hockey, I found it very inspiring. He really inspired me to come out here and help these kids."

When newspaper ads and posters weren't enough to attract Hispanics to the program, Ross and Wolitski took a more hands-on approach.

"We realized we needed to have boots on the ground, go door-to-door in communities," Wolitski said. "We needed Carlos to get on the Hispanic radio stations, and really get in and earn trust in the community. That was a big thing for us early on, trying to earn the trust from them to join a non-traditional sport for that community."

The new approach worked and Colorado Extreme lured parents like Kathy Vega-Munoz. She said her sons, Livani and Xavier Vazquez-Vega, were nervous when they were first on the ice, but now they can't wait to get to the rink.

"I thought it was awesome that they want kids of all cultures involved, especially in a community where sometimes because of financial barriers, language barriers, kids don't get opportunities to do some sports," Vega-Munoz said.

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