Blues hope new after-school program will help hockey reach more diverse communities
The St. Louis Blues hope to achieve key goals with a new youth initiative: increasing diversity and access to the sport.
About 20 children from across the city are part of the first class of the team’s North City Blues program. The partnership between the Blues, KIPP Schools and Friendly Temple gives children ages 4-10 the chance to learn the game, including how to skate, for 12 weeks.
The program is also an opportunity to learn life skills, said Blues Community Youth Hockey Advisor Jamal Mayers.
“Selflessness, dedication, hard work, perseverance – those are the qualities I want in all my kids. And I think hockey is a great way to teach kids those life lessons and hopefully- le, to have a little fun along the way.”
Mayers is the lead instructor for the North City Blues. He passes on the knowledge acquired during a career with five National Hockey League teams, including a stint with the Blues. He says the initiative can help children start learning about themselves.
“Try. Succeed. Have fun. Meet new people and experience something unique. Going to the Enterprise Center is pretty cool,” he said.
Brittanie Shanks said the program had a strong and positive impact on her two sons aged 4 and 9.
“The older one, you can definitely tell, his confidence on the ice has increased. He immediately kicks in,” she said, adding that her youngest was just having fun. “He’s always playing and exploring.”
1 of 9
Matthias Thompson, 12, center, of North St. Louis, skates alongside his brother Nate Thompson, left, 12, and mother Treena Thompson, right, March 9 at the Enterprise Center.
2 of 9
Matthias Thompson, 12, of North St. Louis, laces up skates March 9 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis. The North City Blues is the newest youth hockey initiative of the St. Louis Blues launched to provide a free after-school program for students ages 4-10 enrolled in KIPP Schools and/or Friendly Temple Christian Academy.
3 of 9
Treena Thompson of North St. Louis adjusts a helmet on the head of her son Nate Thompson, 9, March 9 before a North City Blues practice.
4 of 9
Daxton Shanks, 4, of North St. Louis, reacts as his father David Shanks adjusts his helmet March 9 before a North City Blues practice at the Enterprise Center.
5 of 9
David Shanks, right, of North St. Louis, adjusts the gloves of Daxton Shanks, his 4-year-old son, March 9 before a North City Blues practice at the Enterprise Center. Brittanie Shanks, Daxton’s mother, stands at left.
6 of 9
Volunteer coaches and kids from North St. Louis practice March 9 during a North City Blues practice at the Enterprise Center. The North City Blues is the newest youth hockey initiative of the St. Louis Blues launched to provide a free after-school program for students ages 4-10 enrolled in KIPP Schools and/or Friendly Temple Christian Academy.
7 of 9
Jessica Strong-Reese of Spanish Lake takes a picture of her 7-year-old son, Jekobe Reese, March 9 during a North City Blues practice at the Enterprise Center.
8 of 9
Instructor Sarah Peterson, top right, encourages 4-year-old Daxton Shanks of North St. Louis to stand up March 9 during a North City Blues practice at the Enterprise Center.
9 of 9
Autumn Leslie, centre-right, a 4-year-old child from Florissant, is helped alongside a schoolmate after attempting to step over a foam block March 9 during a North City Blues practice at the Enterprise Center.
Belinda Dantley, a relative from South St. Louis, sees the North City Blues as an opportunity that didn’t exist when she was growing up.
“We didn’t do ice skating. We didn’t do hockey,” she said.
“And even looking at the sport now, you see it’s not full of black and brown players. So to take that pipeline down to 4 years, I think is amazing.”
Her son Christan is a fan of the program – for two simple reasons.
“I can play and I can train,” he said.
Many of the boys and girls in the program had never skated before signing up for the North City Blues.
Young Braelyn Curtis is already confident in his skating abilities.
“I bought in right away,” he said, adding that he could skate “super fast!”
The Blues do not expect this move to be a one-off deal.
The next class is expected to hit the ice in the coming weeks, giving more St. Louis kids an opportunity many of their parents never even considered decades ago.