NEW YORK -- Harlem may not be known as a hotbed of hockey, but the NHL and New York Rangers are doing their part to make sure those in the area who want to play the game are able to.
A research study conducted by the Aspen Institute's Project Play: Harlem initiative discovered children in the East Harlem community lacked access to activity and sports opportunities, and when asked, they indicated hockey as one of the sports they wished they could play.
As a result, the NHL and Rangers created a street hockey platform that will be introduced in all District 4 and 5 elementary and middle schools for the 2019-20 school year.
"Several of the students in the district wanted hockey and we didn't really have the resources to bring the sport to fruition until we met with the NHL, and now we have this opportunity in approximately 5-6 of our schools," Dr. Alexandra Estrella, NYC Department of Education District 4 superintendent said. "This is something the kids are truly vested and interested in that is not a typical sport that we normally offer in our regular day-to-day curriculum."
As part of the program, each school will receive street hockey equipment, a curriculum created in partnership with the NYCDOE and training sessions for all physical education teachers in participating schools. The Rangers created this program for more than 40 schools between 96th Street and 142nd Street in East Harlem, which will impact an estimated 13,000 students, beginning this fall. In the spring, six schools in these districts will begin the pilot program.
"Over 40 percent of the country is considered minority," NHL Network analyst and former Rangers goalie Kevin Weekes said during the clinic at William Paca School in East Harlem on Friday. "And so many of our backgrounds are different, so I think it's important to recognize that and to be able to share this great game with so many different boys and girls from different backgrounds."
The program demonstrates the NHL's commitment to making hockey accessible to all and to keeping kids active and healthy through sports. In May 2018, the NHL joined 19 other organizations to form Aspen Institute's Project Play 2020, a national initiative mobilizing the sports industry to take steps in growing sport participation and related metrics among youth.
"Project Play: Harlem is an initiative that works to landscape the state of play in East Harlem and one of the findings we had there was learning that hockey was one of the top sports kids wanted to try in the neighborhood," Ranya Bautista, program coordinator for Aspen Institute said. "We began conversations with the NHL, the Rangers, District 4 to see how we could offer hockey, starting with gym hockey moving into street hockey and other forms of the game."
Black History Month began Friday; the celebration is part of Hockey Is For Everyone, a joint NHL and NHLPA initiative celebrating diversity and inclusion in hockey.
"We're extremely excited about this, for the doors and opportunities it can open," said New York State assembly member Robert Rodriguez, who grew up in Harlem. "It's really important that people realize the connection with District 4 in East Harlem. We're often categorized by the zip code we're in; we are not the highest-earning community, not the highest-income community, but we have kids with a lot of energy and passion and certainly a lot of drive."
The NHL Presents the American Legacy Black Hockey History Tour, a uniquely curated mobile museum, which will visit six U.S. cities and make its first stop in New York on Saturday. The 525-square foot museum looks back at the founders, trail blazers, history makers, and Stanley Cup champions; and looks ahead to the next generation of young stars, NHL Officials, broadcasters, and women in the game.
"The true power of hockey is the positive values it teaches and the life lessons that you learn will extend far beyond the game," Jessica Berman, NHL vice president, community development, culture and growth said. "Together, we truly can make sure hockey is for everyone."