Students from eight different Baltimore City recreation centers participated in the 8th Annual Baltimore Street Hockey Tournament on Thursday, July 26, 2018. After several consecutive days of rain, the tournament, which is sponsored by the Washington Capitals; Baltimore City Recreation & Parks (BCRP); and Monumental Sports & Entertainment was held under bright, sunny skies at the Madison Square Recreation Center. The yearly event is the culmination of a multi-week street hockey curriculum presented to over 75,000 students across more than 150 schools.
Bob Wall, Baltimore City’s Chief of Recreation says that this partnership between BCRP and the Capitals introduces students to street hockey and fosters an appreciation of hockey in students who might not otherwise be interested in the sport.
“Students have a chance to learn the game through playing it, which makes watching and following it more enjoyable,” Wall said. “It’s a way to get them up and active and using different muscle systems in their bodies, and in a city that doesn’t always have the best reputation, this program unifies neighborhoods by creating fun competition between students who live in different areas of the city.”
Dressed in bright t-shirts and donning street hockey sticks, students cheered for their teammates and enjoyed the fun atmosphere of the tournament. The games were fast-paced and exciting, and everybody, even the adult coaches, spectators, and members of the press, were smiling and having fun. It was almost impossible not to dance to the music coming from the speakers and get caught up in the intensity of the games being played. Even people walking past the community center stopped as they passed to see what all the cheering was about.
One passerby, Donna Hairston, watched in fascination as the game continued. “You’d expect kids in the middle of the city to be playing basketball or football,” Hairston observed as she watched the children play, “but not hockey. Black kids playing hockey. This is a sight for sore eyes!” she laughed.
“This has really turned into an event that kids look forward to every year,” said Peter Robinson, director of Community Relations for the Washington Capitals.
Eight years ago, the Capitals donated street hockey equipment to 15 Baltimore City community centers. They sent instructions on how the game was played and how to teach the skills to the students.
“The first year we had this tournament, we had a couple dozen kids, a few teams, and the kids were just happy to be participating. Now, we have teams at 42 recreation centers. They have strategy. They’ve been practicing. They argue over the rules. They’re really competitive. This has become a source of pride for them,” Robinson explained. “The kids look forward to it every year, and so does my staff. The Washington Capitals love coming to Baltimore and being a part of something so positive and fun for the students.”
It doesn’t hurt that this year the Capitals are sharing their 2018 Stanley Cup Championship with the students participating in the tournament.
“When we got here, students ran up to us and told us that they watched every single game of the Capital’s playoff run. They knew all the details of all the games. These kids are fans now. They understand the sport. They know what’s going on. Before, they didn’t pay attention to hockey. Now, they never miss a game. We are here to create excitement around the sport of hockey. When we see how excited these kids are, we know we are doing our job,” Robinson said.
The program has become so popular and is so beneficial that this year, the National Hockey League and the Washington Capitals have donated street hockey equipment to 170 schools and 42 recreation centers in Baltimore City. This generous donation will introduce street hockey to thousands of students during their physical education classes at school and at recreation centers after school and during the summer.
“The whole goal of this program is to provide access to the kids in the city of Baltimore to hockey,” Robinson said. “And we’re doing it.”