"Every year we have to go out there into the community and into the boys and girls clubs and into some of the schools and some of those neighborhoods to try and convince these kids that this is an incredible opportunity to give hockey a try."
Having been part of SCORE Boston Hockey for half of the organization’s 22 years, Wendell Taylor has witnessed the ups and downs of the program.
Right now, SCORE Boston is on an upswing. Taylor, the organization’s president, is striving to keep it that way.
The program is attracting underprivileged inner-city youth who are interested in giving hockey a try. Add in educational components and the organization is making a difference in one of the biggest hockey markets in the United States.
“The program has taken off. The past couple of years in particular, we’ve made some pretty big strides,” said John Resnick, SCORE Boston vice president of hockey operations. “I think a lot of it has to do with USA Hockey and the Hockey is for Everyone grant and program. That along with the Boston Bruins Foundation, run by [Executive Director] Bob Sweeney and his crew, has pretty much been the sole financial backing of the program.”
SCORE (Sportsmanship, Character, Opportunity, Respect and Education) Boston has 94 kids participating — 60 boys and 34 girls — from all walks of life.
The biggest obstacle at this point for the organization is getting enough ice time for the players. The kids are only able to skate once per week, on Saturdays, from October to April at the Max Ulin Ice Rink in Milton.
SCORE Boston fields four teams: one group each for 8U, 10U, 12U and 14U.
“A lot of kids, even for a house team in Boston, they’re just so far above us it’s ridiculous,” Taylor said. “But teams come, their kids are fantastic. They try to play down to our level whenever possible, they help our kids around the ice. Our kids, they don’t care about the number of goals scored on them or winning or losing.”
SCORE Boston, which is completely run by volunteers, has 24 coaches teaching the kids. Some of the coaches include top-notch college players at Boston College and Brown University. Taylor is amazed by the talented folks who want to dedicate their time to helping mold young hockey players.
But it’s challenging for the organization to attract new skaters every year. A typical player jumping into the program is around 10 years old and doesn’t have a skating background. Some of the kids will experience hockey for the first time playing floor hockey at school and get the urge to want to test out getting on the ice, noted Taylor.
“Every year we have to go out there into the community and into the boys and girls clubs and into some of the schools and some of those neighborhoods to try and convince these kids that this is an incredible opportunity to give hockey a try,” Resnick said. “You get geared up head to toe, you’re on the ice at least once a week, we’ve got a classroom component. It’s just a really great opportunity, but it’s a continual battle to find the right kids.”
Once a player first tries the sport, the retention rate is high. Of the first-year players coming out, Taylor figures about half return for a second season. It’s all about getting over the hump of learning how to skate after possibly falling on the ice.
“Typically, we have good athletes, so they’re playing basketball, football, and they want to try hockey,” Taylor said. “So, I have a lot of kids that have amazing hands, unbelievably great athletes. But the tough item is the skating. So, coming in at 10 and trying to get them up and standing and making them realize that practice makes perfect is tough.”
The on-ice goal is simple for SCORE Boston: Give the kids a chance to try a different sport than they’re used to playing.
“Try something new to the extent that you take to it and you want to be a part of it,” Taylor said. “I think it’s a growth opportunity. It’s easy to go and do something you know, it’s hard to get out of your comfort zone. They realize trying really hard and failing and trying again is an important aspect to grow.”
The program also adds an educational component for the players. After their one-hour weekly skate, the kids have one hour of classroom time. Coaches address several types of message ranging from bullying in class to nutrition to rules of hockey.
The educational emphasis focuses on three main aspects.
“No. 1, self-esteem, building self-esteem as a kid of color or a kid of need in society,” Taylor said. “No. 2, making sure that the kids feel like they have the resources for academic achievements, so if the kids need extra help, we’ll provide it for them. And finally, making sure that they recognize what they receive, they have to give back. So, making sure that every kid is involved in some type of charitable activity to give back for the things they’ve received in the program.”
Once the players put the hockey and educational pieces together, hopefully they can move on to compete at the high school level while continuing to do well as a student. Over the last few years, several kids in the program have gotten the opportunity to play hockey at storied Boston-area schools such as Milton Academy. Once in school, a couple of the players actually dropped out of hockey to concentrate on their academics.
“The goal is not to have a kid playing in high school or playing in college, the goal is to give the kids access to something different,” Taylor said. “If hockey’s a conduit to doing that, it’s a win.”