PHILADELPHIA -- Ed Snider has owned the Philadelphia Flyers since they came into the NHL in 1967, and built them over the last 45 years into one of the League's marquee franchises, including a pair of Stanley Cup titles.
But what the 79-year-old Snider is doing now is even more rewarding.
The Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation (ESYHF) cut the ribbon Friday on the fourth ice rink it has refurbished in a unique partnership with the city of Philadelphia.
Tarken Ice Rink, in the Oxford Circle part of the city, joined the Laura Sims Skatehouse in West Philadelphia, the Scanlon Ice Rink in Kensington and the Simons Rink in West Oak Lane as new areas of opportunity for kids in the city to have places to learn hockey as well as further themselves academically.
"When you talk about the Philadelphia Flyers, that's my business, my profession," Snider said. "It's something that I'm proud of, and I want to see us get another Cup. I look at this as something entirely different. This is nothing to do with my profession. This has to do with my desire to help inner-city kids. This is what it's all about. It means a tremendous amount to me."
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Founded in 2005, ESYHF has used hockey as a way to help at-risk, inner-city students in the Delaware Valley learn hockey skills while also helping them academically. The foundation serves 3,000 children between the ages of 5 and 17 at the four Philadelphia rinks it manages as well as at the Flyers Skate Zone facilities in New Jersey that house ESYHF programs.
"We just use hockey as the hook to gain and hold the attention of these kids to engage them deeply and teach much greater life lessons," ESYHF President Scott Tharp told NHL.com. "We have a very large-scale academic component to what we do and an award-winning, nationally acclaimed life-skills curriculum that we also engage the kids in."
The foundation's mission changed slightly in 2008, when Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter announced the closing of three of the city's five public ice rinks. That's when Snider and his foundation stepped in and signed a 20-year contract with the city to operate the rinks. Part of that deal entailed the overhaul of four of the rinks, including adding roofs to allow for year-round skating, and add classroom space for the academic portion of the program.
Nutter lauded the unique partnership, which has allowed the four renovated city rinks to serve more than 1,500 children.
"[ESYHF] stepped up and made sure those other three [rinks] were open," Nutter said, "and subsequent to that we entered a partnership that they're working with us at all five. Nothing like that has ever happened."
Nutter, who serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, believes the partnership between the ESYHF and the city can serve as a national model.
"More service, more skating, more equipment, more service -- all very positive and beneficial to the city at virtually no cost to us, it really is a natural model," Nutter said. "I've been on a number of national news programs when people talk about the challenges that cities face … I've been in a number of situations where I've used the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation partnership with the city of Philadelphia as a model. This is a model that can be replicated all across the country, the kind of things that we should look at."
Snider said he'd love to see other cities replicate what his foundation has created in Philadelphia.
"We would love to see this type of thing grow throughout the country -- not by us but by others emulating what we've done here," he said. "It's actually been a success beyond my wildest dreams. It's sort of catapulted us when four rinks were going to be closed and we came in to manage them and then we made this contract with the city, a 20-year deal where we could afford to remodel these, so it really has expanded beautifully. If it can happen in other cities, I'd love it. If we could consult with other cities, I'd be happy to do that."
"We just use hockey as the hook to gain and hold the attention of these kids to engage them deeply and teach much greater life lessons. We have a very large-scale academic component to what we do and an award-winning, nationally acclaimed life-skills curriculum that we also engage the kids in" -- Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation president Scott Tharp
For now, Snider is committed to improving the situation for at-risk kids in Philadelphia, and eventually points beyond. He said the goal of the foundation is to reach 10,000 kids in the Philadelphia region.
"We want to expand consistently, but we don't want to expand too fast because we want to have a quality product for the kids and we want to make sure we can do a good job," Snider said. "We want to expand throughout the Delaware Valley, and we're starting in that direction. We want to go to places like Chester and maybe Allentown and places like that. So far we're doing it very slowly. We wanted to set up Philadelphia first, but we're making great progress. I think through the years you're going to see it become a much bigger program."
That program already has helped kids graduate from both high school and to college and junior-hockey programs, with more to come as kids get involved at earlier ages. And for kids who would not have had the means to go to college, higher education now has become more than just a possibility.
"College has been an option, but I think I have a better opportunity to go to a bigger, better college," Kaseir Archie, a 15-year-old center who plays on the Snider Hockey U-16 team, told NHL.com. "Playing hockey, maybe I can get a sports scholarship, or even a scholarship from the program."
Diquan Jackson, a defenseman and Archie's teammate, said when -- not if -- he goes to college, it will be a school that has two important things.
"I'm going to pick a college that has hockey at it," he told NHL.com. "I'll also look at the academics of it, too, because that's what Snider Hockey teaches you."
That's just what Snider wants to hear -- hockey skills leading to education and life skills.
"We're using ice hockey as something we know and as the hook to get these kids interested, but more importantly to us is the educational component," he said. "The fact that our kids matriculate at 96 percent as opposed to 50-something percent in the general population means a lot to us. We help them with their homework, we give them life skills, we have a teaching program, and at the same time they have to get good grades to continue. If they don't get good grades they can't continue in the program. We get letters from parents all the time about how their kids are doing so much better in school and that's really the goal of this organization. That's our real goal. If someday one of the kids becomes an NHL player, that'll just be icing on the cake."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK