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Red Wings partner with Labatt Blue to keep Clark Park thriving

Volunteers spent Friday helping refurbish the entire complex, including the ice rink

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- Many people aren't aware of it, but there has been outdoor ice skating in the city of Detroit since the late 1800s.

Clark Park is not just one of those places, it's the last one standing.

"It's always been known for their ice skating programs here. We have photographs of people skating in 1890," said Anthony Benavides, the director of the Clark Park Coalition. "The ice rink's been here, this is the third ice rink that's been put up in this place. They keep putting new ones up but I remember coming here as a child and ice skating here and that was the '60s. This is where I learned to skate. Learned on Detroit ice rinks.

"Detroit, at one point, had probably about 10 outdoor ice rinks. We're the last surviving one. So that's why it's so special to keep this one alive and keep investing in it with people hours and funds. It's a very expensive piece of equipment to maintain and keep going. But we love it."

That is where the Detroit Red Wings and their partner, Labatt Blue, along with Fabiano Brothers Inc., have stepped in to lend a hand with a $15,000 investment and dozens of volunteers.

As part of the Hockeytown Cares platform, volunteers from all three of those companies and from the Detroit Tigers, spent most of the day Friday at Clark Park.

"Days like this are what Hockeytown Cares is all about, bringing together the Detroit Red Wings with our great partners like Labatt to impact our community in such a way that will truly live on throughout the entire hockey season for the kids and the families who play hockey here at Clark Park," said Kevin Brown, director of community relations and Detroit Red Wings Foundation.

Clark Park operates year-round, providing opportunities for thousands of kids of all ages to play ice hockey, street hockey, baseball, softball and any other sport the kids might want to play.

"We have probably four or five organizations helping Clark Park out, just shining the gem, getting it painted, refurbishing our ice rink, refurbishing our playgrounds, refurbishing our areas where all the children play," Benavides said. "Inside our building, we're refurbishing our skates, cleaning them, getting them ready for the winter, our floors, our cabinetry, we're getting it ready to paint. So they're boxing everything up and putting them on shelves so we can move them all out so the painters can come in and do their job."

Lauren Christopher, public relations manager for Labatt Blue, said they couldn't have asked for a better way -- or a more perfect summer day -- to give back to the city of Detroit.

"This project was really a natural fit for us," Christopher said. "Labatt is a Canadian beer brand so we have those deep hockey roots, hockey is really in our DNA. So to be able to get together with our partners at the Red Wings and renovate an outdoor hockey rink, it couldn't have been a better fit for us.

"We have about 70 volunteers out here from 9 to 3, so we're putting in about 300 volunteer hours today. So we're really excited to see the big impact that we're going to make there."

Among those volunteers was Brown's mom, visiting from Florida, who came along to help her son help others.

"At the Red Wings, we're all about family, so it's not just our colleagues, it's also our own personal families," Brown said. "I was happy to have my own mother here helping to support such a great cause at Clark Park.

"The few hours that we spent here at Clark Park are going to make such a difference for the individuals who work on site here every day to help grow the sport of hockey here in southwest Detroit. For us, the opportunity to work alongside them in our mission to continue that growth as well is something that's truly special for our organization."

Benavides said having a small army of people to work was incredibly helpful for their small organization at Clark Park.

"We can do bits and pieces of it but when you have all these people -- there's got to be at least 80 people here -- we couldn't do it all," Benavides said. "There's only about eight of us that work here and we're always tending to other needs so all this upkeep gets pushed back.

"We're so glad that they're here to help us out. This will really get us ahead."

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