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Hockey Is For Everyone

NHL introduces children of color to hockey at Martha's Vineyard festival

Kids try shooting, stickhandling, meet O'Ree at annual gathering of black families

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / Staff Writer

VINEYARD HAVEN, Mass. -- Jeff Lubin saw something Tuesday that he had never seen before: His children holding hockey sticks.

"This is the first time they've done this," said Lubin as he watched his son Marcel, 6, and daughter Ashlee, 4, firing street hockey balls into a net. "Children of color are so used to having the football, having the basketball in their hands. We have footballs and basketballs in our house, I would never expect to give them a hockey stick. It's different and it's nice. I like it."

The NHL brought hockey to Martha's Vineyard to participate at the OB Boogie, one of the largest annual gatherings of black families on the popular summer vacation spot.

A driving rain didn't stop hundreds of families from assembling inside a tent outside the Martha's Vineyard Museum to meet Willie O'Ree, the NHL's first black player, and try their hand at shooting and stickhandling at stations brought to the island by the League.

"I see a lot of talent in these young kids, really," O'Ree said. "It just goes to show you, build it and they will come."

Rob Knesaurek, vice president, Industry Growth Fund Initiatives at the NHL, said the purpose for attending the Boogie was to help grow the game and to show it is welcoming and inclusive.

"It's important that people get to see that hockey is for everyone, truly," said Knesaurek, a former forward who played collegiate hockey in Canada and played three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League. "I think it's important to diversify our game and let people know they're welcome to play our game, regardless of where you come from."

Lori Hall Armstrong, one of the Boogie's organizers, said the NHL's presence helps show children that there are playing and fan possibilities beyond the other major league sports.

The Boogie began six years ago when parents in New York and New Jersey, who were also connected through college and sororities, organized the fun-filled event as an activity for their children.

It has morphed into one of the largest children's events, with families coming from as far as California. 

"This is the biggest family party in Martha's Vineyard, this is a group of affluent, successful black people from the East Coast all the way to the West Coast and they have the resources and skills to enjoy hockey," Armstrong said. "Being at an event like this and do hands-on lessons in hockey is invaluable. For some of them, this might be the first time. It is a great experience for them, and we're happy that they can be exposed to it." 

Tuesday was the first time Nia Broughton of Centreville, Virginia, ever shot a puck. She said it was hard but fun.

"I never really had a chance to get into hockey before," Broughton said. "I'll try it again sometime."

Her mother, Candace Broughton, was pleasantly surprised to see the NHL at the event and pleased that her children got a chance to try a game that they've watched on television. 

"Exposure is great, I wasn't expecting it," Candace Broughton said. "It's very nice to have exposure."

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