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How Minneapolis’ Dinomights is making hockey accessible to communities of color

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Boasting several NCAA Division-1 Hockey teams, an NHL hockey franchise, the Minnesota Wild, and countless open skating rinks during the winter time, Minnesota has been a hockey state for a long time. Though the sport is amongst the most popular in the North Star state, there’s been mounting pressure in the NHL to make the sport more accessible to communities of color.

 

The league has done this by marketing its non-White stars such as P.K. Subban, inviting rap star Snoop Dogg broadcast LA Kings games, and launching hockey programs in urban neighborhoods across the country. 

 

In Minnesota, Dinomights, a Minneapolis-based hockey organization, have been breaking the racial barriers in hockey for over 20 years. Recently, they’ve partnered with the Minnesota Wild to continue these efforts throughout the Twin Cities. 

 

Founded by faith leader John Foley, with the mission of teaching hockey and developing future leaders in the inner city Minneapolis communities of Powderhorn, Phillips and Central, Dinomights has served roughly 4000 students and currently serves 300-500 kids annually since 1985.

 

Chris Haugen has been a coach with Dinomights since 2017. A graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in elementary education and a former hockey player, he was excited about the opportunity to share his love of the winter sport with youth.

 

“I was like why not. I’m not using my elementary degree. I’ve coached the squirts for a couple of years and the pewees for one year. The first year hooked me. Picking kids up, running practice, getting subway after and going back home. It’s a blast” Haugen said. 

 

For children who have likely never ice-skated, handled a hockey stick, or even seen a puck, teaching them how to play was a delicate balance.

 

“We do drills with a soccer ball, play tag, all sorts of drills that incorporate different games, but on the ice,” Haugen explained. “Just making it fun, keeping it upbeat. As a coach, I’m tired after the practices, so you have to bring that energy and the kids bring it too.”

 

In youth sports programs around the country, winning often takes precedence over player development and fun, but at Dinomights helping players become their best selves, on the ice and off it, comes before any game result.

 

“Don’t worry about the outcome, scoring a goal or winning the game, but worry about the process. At the beginning of the season, you couldn’t walk on ice, now you can skate forward and backwards,” Haugen often told his players. “It’s about the growth of the player. I think that first season was a bit of a challenge, we didn’t win till the tenth week…It’s about sticking through challenges and enjoying the hard work that the players do.”

 

Dinomights is more than a gateway to hockey

 

From elementary age kids to high schoolers, Dinomights invites youth from marginalized communities into their program. The kids are taught how to ice skate, shoot a hockey puck. With time they learn basic and advanced hockey strategies. 

 

Though the program prides itself in making hockey accessible to kids, who would otherwise not play the sport, they are more excited about helping them grow into smart, curious, responsible adults and perhaps great learners, and better leaders. 

 

“It is a hockey team, but it’s more than that. There’s tutoring, you can volunteer at an outdoor rink. There’s a mission of creating well rounded individuals, academically, spiritually, athletically, and as individuals,” Haugen said.

 

“As for academia, we do a week-long academic camp. Last year, our theme was public health, with speakers from different careers,” Scott Harman, current Executive Director of Dinomights added. “The common entry is at the end of first grade, but we have some that start earlier. We want students to stay in the program till high school graduation. We have tutoring at middle school and high school.”

 

At the high school level, there’s much less hockey activities for students at Dinomight beyond an annual alumni game. Though many students hang up their skates, they still participate in the academic program their organization offers.

 

“In high school it’s more academic and leadership over hockey,” Haugen said. “Our high school program is creating a culture of achievement and goal setting. Highschoolers have the option to apply for jobs at Dinomights and be junior youth workers.”

 

For Dinomights, hockey comes second to academics. Since 1985, 86 percent of the program’s participants have graduated on time. Through the years, they’ve been tracking student’s performance in the classroom, as well as the highest level of hockey each player played until they quit. 

 

Their findings reveal a shameful racial and accessibility trend. 

 

Making hockey accessible–There’s only one high school hockey team in Minneapolis 

 

Dinomights doesn’t have a recreation league for high schoolers, but they do offer academic programs for their older students. This means, however, that many of their players hang up their skates once they turn 14. 

 

“There’s a lot of kids who do want to go on and play, but there’s not many Minneapolis program schools, so that is another challenging piece,” Haugen said. “They go through all that progression, they get started, but after the Dinomights program, where can they go where they can play?”

 

“There’s one combined hockey team in Minneapolis, Washburn or Southwest and it’s a joint team. Any kid in the district can play for that team,” Harman added. 

 

As the current executive director, Harman spends time contemplating his and Dinomights’ role in advocating for diversity in hockey in Minnesota.

 

“Hockey isn’t alone in being only White kids who play. Nationwide that’s generally true. The other piece that is true, along with other youth sports, is that it trends towards elitism,” he said. “The costs are continuously going up, especially with Elite athlete development programs. You get motivated kids and families to continue putting resources in training and it’s hard to compete with people who can pay that cost, if you’re a family that can meet those costs.”

 

The cost of equipment–helmet, skates, padding–and team fees can cost a minimum of $1000 dollars, but for many teams, especially elite clubs that travel around the state and country the price can range anywhere between $10,000 and $50,000 depending on the program. For kids of color from the inner city, it can be a challenge to pay such a steep price to play a sport. 

 

For Harman, the solution to making hockey more diverse is not Black and White. He believes however that lowering the price of youth clubs could be a step in the right direction.

 

“A nonwhite person is not necessarily a low income person, sometimes we link those things, but they are not always the same. It’s not this level playing field,” he said. “There are communities strong in hockey, but who are changing and becoming lower income and they are figuring how to do hockey, but there’s pressure to compete with other associations. We are hoping to make an impact outside of our own walls.”

 

Dinomights is making partnerships with other youth hockey associations, helping them better serve communities of color, while continuing to support lower-income communities through the various programs they offer. They’ve also partnered with the Minnesota Wild to continue breaking racial barriers to playing hockey.  Still, the challenge is bigger than Dinomights and new initiatives are needed. 

 

“The answer isn’t simple. In the Twin Cities’ metro, in first ring suburbs that have transformed in makeup of demographics in the last 20 years, Hockey is declinding in those places. The people that bleed those associations want the best for their children, so they are looking for spots for their own children,” Harman explained.

 

“It’s not just about my children and where they play hockey, which is what most players think about. What team will they play on? How do we transform this entire community? I’m a high advocate of experimenting with different models: How do you invite people? Where’s the invitation?”

 

What Harman describes is the bigger challenge for youth hockey in Minnesota. There’s competition for top youth programs that many low-income minority kids can’t afford. As prices to play continue to soar, programs are not able to accommodate them, ultimately erasing them from the sport entirely. 

 

For over 20 years Dinomights has worked to challenge this racial divide, by creating youth hockey and education programs for kids, 6-18 years-old. They’ve helped thousands of Minneapolis’ students graduate from high school through their mentorship and tutoring programs, but they continue to face an uphill battle in dismantling the systemic barrier preventing these same kids from playing hockey in high school and beyond.

 

To fellow hockey clubs and associations looking to do better, Scott Harman has some advice, “Groups that want to grow the diversity of their association, you have to look at who are you serving and how are you meeting the true needs of the community you are serving.” 

 

Learn more here about MN Wild Foundation and how they continue to support Youth Hockey programming which include tutoring, mentorship and spiritual development Wild Foundation announces $166,000 in grants to community partners (nhl.com)

 

About Dinomights- Dinomights provides a powerful combination of traditional enrichment through revcreation and intentional strategies that respond to children’s unique developmental and academic needs. Please visit www.dinomights.com to learn more.

 

By Vida y Deportes, Contributing Writer, Jeffrey Bissot-Mattis

 

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Los Senadores sucumben ante la ley del Wild

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Kirill Kaprizov anotó su primer gol de la temporada 2:02 en tiempo extra y los Minnesota Wild vencieron a los Ottawa Senators 5-4 el martes por la noche.

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Foligno convirtió un pase de Matt Dumba para empatar el juego 4-4 poco más de dos minutos después.

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