The ultimate dream of many athletes is to play in the same arena as the professionals. For dozens of student-athletes, that dream became a reality on Presidents Day, when the Philadelphia Flyers hosted the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation for an outing at Wells Fargo Center in honor of Black History Month.
Created in 2005 by the late Flyers founder Ed Snider, Snider Hockey provides underserved children from urban neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey, with the opportunity to learn to play the game of ice hockey and as a means to succeed in life.
The activities began with an interactive on-ice clinic with former Flyers player Donald Brashear, one of a handful of Black men to play for the franchise. “Of course, you see a lot Black kids out here so it is good for me to be a role model,” said Brashear, who spent four seasons with the team. “They’re going through the same thing I am going through.”
The students also received a surprise visit from Gritty the mascot.
The Flyers organization, which partners with Snider Hockey, stresses the importance of their relationship. “We want to staple ourselves as a leader in growing the game,” said Joe Meade, vice president of community relations and government affairs for Wells Fargo Center and the Flyers. Meade, a Philadelphia native, grew up near Simons Recreation Center, which has an ice rink.
One of the most successful participants in Snider Hockey is 13-year-old Kailani Gomez, who has been with the program since 2018. “My favorite thing is being a part of a team and knowing they’re going to always be with me even though I don’t play with them every day,” Gomez said.
After the ice session, the group listened to a lunch-and-learn panel discussion featuring Brashear; Meade; Kelsey Koelzer, the first African-American head women’s hockey coach at Arcadia University in Glenside; Lyric Hamilton, events coordinator for the Flyers and Wells Fargo Center; and moderator Bridgett Wilkerson of community outreach for Snider Hockey.
The panel discussed challenges they faced navigating the sport. “Nothing that anybody says can keep you from playing the sport you love,” said Koelzer, who grew up often being the only girl on her team. “As long as you are having fun, that is all that matters as a person and a hockey player.”
Brashear was born in the United States but was the only Black kid playing hockey while being raised by his adoptive white parents in Canada.
“I thought I would have a disadvantage,” he said. “It was in my mind that to play in the big leagues, you had to be white. But if you believe in yourself, you can make it and do a lot of good things.”
The day began with an exclusive tour of the National Hockey League’s Mobile Black History Museum, which was on site for the Flyers home game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The museum features displays of Willie O’Ree, the league’s first Black player in 1958 and an inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, and Dirk Graham, the first Black captain in 1989. Every Black player in NHL history is represented with a uniquely designed shrine called the “Wall of Pucks.”
In addition, the kids got to sit in a customized locker room stall of both Brashear and Koelzer for a photo opportunity and for on-site autographs.
Meade said the day goes beyond teaching kids about hockey.
“It’s really profound in understanding the value sports does from an educational and developmental standpoint, also with building lifelong relationships, and we’re excited about the role we play in that,” he said.
For more information about the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, visit sniderhockey.org.