Minnesota Hockey, in September 2015, posted a list on their website of the “20 Reasons We Love Hockey In Minnesota
.” The second reason was this:
“We play for our communities. The Minnesota model is unique in this way. We represent our community on the ice and we play with our neighbors, classmates and childhood friends, from Mites through high school.”
DinoMights is a non-profit serving the communities of Central, Powderhorn and Phillips in South Minneapolis and has found a way to bring hockey to neighborhoods facing urban ills including low graduation rates and youth crime.
They are one of the very first groups the Wild worked with from the community front, and the relationship remains strong today as both organizations, along with other partners and supporters, work to ensure all kids get the opportunity to not only play hockey, but learn important life lessons.
The goal of DinoMights, founded by John Foley in 1995, is “developing physical, academic, social and spiritual excellence” to positively impact the lives of inner city youth in Minneapolis.
Foley saw an opportunity, using hockey as the bridge, to provide life lessons and long-term mentoring relationships to children who may have been lacking in this area of support, but just needed someone to take a chance on them.
Beginning with 12 boys on roller blades on the asphalt of Central Park in Minneapolis during the summer of 1995 and then transitioning to skates that winter, DinoMights was born and the program has flourished, serving 360 kids this past year.
Getting on the ice is important, but for the holistic approach of DinoMights, the most important aspect is the relationship with the mentors for every child that participates.
During the DinoMights 20th anniversary fundraiser last fall, the original 12 boys, now 30-something men, told their stories to the gathered audience. Whether or not they still play the game, what stood out was how many of their coaches were still in their lives as grown adults.
“That motivates us here today, every single day,” executive director of DinoMights, Scott Haman said.
Minnesota Wild defensemen Matt Dumba was on hand for the event, with forward Charlie Coyle, to support the program. The stories of the original 12 players stood out to him as well.
“It’s crazy the fact that these people, the volunteers and the people who are helping coach these teams, and teach these kids the game, and the life-changing impact they have,” Dumba said. “Myself, having mentors like my dad and minor hockey coaches, without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Matt Majka, chief operating officer of the Wild, has also been able to see how impactful the relationships are while attending their off-ice events.
“While hockey provides an opportunity for that, there’s a lot more that Scott and his staff put into that mentoring relationship,” Majka said. “It has been really rewarding to go to some of their graduation ceremonies. The smiles, not just on the kid’s faces, but the parent’s faces, and the people that work in the program. The pride that they all have in what they have done together - it’s really rewarding for the Wild to be involved in that.”
Majka was one of the very first members of the Wild organization to learn about the urban youth-centered program, and remembers meeting with John Foley shortly after Minnesota was granted an expansion franchise by the NHL.
“They were a little established and we were just getting going,” Majka said. “We were kind of made for each other in terms of a relationship. I remember them providing kids and skaters to us at some of our early events like our name unveiling, our jersey unveiling – they had a prominent role right from the start.”
"The DinoMights have done so much good for the kids in the program both on and off the ice,” said Glen Andresen, executive director of Minnesota Hockey. “Programs like this are key in getting lower-income families into the game and enjoying the fun and life lessons it provides. It is the definition of grass roots hockey and I'm hopeful that programs like it will pop up in other areas of the state."
Minnesota Hockey provides grant money to DinoMights each year. It is an affiliate program, though is run all on its own by Harman and his team, who have done a steady and positive job of providing opportunities for these urban kids.
“I give the program, and the leaders of the program - Scott Harman these days - full credit,” Majka said. “They worked tirelessly with these kids, who need a little direction in their lives and they need a purpose, to some degree.“
As passionate as everyone is about hockey and introducing kids from all walks of life to the joys of the game, DinoMights has continuously gone above and beyond to make learning hockey, and being the best person possible, a realistic goal for anyone.
“LEARN 2 SKATE” PROGRAM
The aspect of DinoMights most connected to the Wild is their “Learn 2 Skate” program. Last year the Minnesota Wild Foundation provided a one-time grant of $25,000, to assist the growth of the program.
Created to teach young kids to skate that might not normally have the chance, the program’s initial year in 1999 reached 70 first graders from Richard Green Central School, and has since grown in size and impact.
“The Minnesota Wild Foundation is very proud to provide funding to the DinoMights Learn 2 Skate program,” said Rachel Schuldt, Minnesota Wild Foundation’s Executive Director. “Learning to skate can be challenging but thanks to the incredible support from DinoMights, the first graders from Green Central and Andersen Schools are getting instruction in a fun environment filled with encouragement and guidance from DinoMights instructors and their peers.”
In keeping with the importance of relationships, the initiative was renamed the “Greg Carroll Learn 2 Skate Program” in 2007, after one of the most selfless coaching and mentoring volunteers to serve DinoMights over the years passed away. Carroll’s legacy is honored also by the fact his family and friends picked up the torch he carried to allow for continued growth.
After 20 years of evolution, the next item on the agenda for the board of the DinoMights is building their own outdoor rink. Kix Field, located on the Midtown Greenway bike path, is home to soccer fields during the warmer months, but DinoMights feels it’s a perfect location for an outdoor ice rink they can utilize to not only promote skating and the sport of hockey, but also to teach its students to manage business operations and proper maintenance.
To learn how you can volunteer or contribute to the DinoMights program, please visit DinoMights.com.
(This article originally appeared in the Nov. 2015 issue of Wild Magazine)