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The Blues hope a new after-school program helps hockey reach more diverse communities

Harmony Jones, 6, of north St. Louis, looks towards her coach on March 9 during a North City Blues practice at the Enterprise Center. The North City Blues is the St. Louis Blues’ newest youth hockey initiative launched to offer s free after-school program to students ages 4-10 enrolled in KIPP Schools and/or Friendly Temple Christian Academy.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Harmony Jones, 6, of north St. Louis, looks towards her coach on March 9 during a North City Blues practice at the Enterprise Center. The North City Blues is the St. Louis Blues’ newest youth hockey initiative launched to offer s free after-school program to students ages 4-10 enrolled in KIPP Schools and/or Friendly Temple Christian Academy.

The St. Louis Blues are hoping to address key goals with a new youth initiative: increasing diversity and access to the sport.

About 20 kids from throughout the city are part of the first class in the team's North City Blues program. The partnership among the Blues, KIPP Schools and Friendly Temple gives children ages 4 to 10 the chance to learn the game, including how to skate, over 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 that hockey is a great vehicle to teach kids those life lessons and hopefully have a little fun along the way."

Mayers is the lead instructor for the North City Blues. He is passing along knowledge gathered from a career with five teams in the National Hockey League, which included a stint with the Blues. He says the initiative can help children to start learning about themselves.

"Try it. Succeed. Have fun. Meet new people and get to experience something unique. Getting to come down to the Enterprise Center is pretty cool," he said.

Brittanie Shanks said the program is having a strong, positive impact on her two sons ages 4 and 9.

"The oldest one you can definitely tell his confidence on the ice has increased. He gets right out there," she said, adding her youngest is simply having fun. "He's still kind of playing and exploring."

Belinda Dantley, a parent from south St. Louis, sees the North City Blues as an opportunity that didn't exist when she was growing up.

"We didn't ice skate. We didn't do hockey," she said.

"And even looking at the sport now, you see that it's not full of Black and brown players. So to get that pipeline all the way down to 4 years old I think is amazing."

Her son Christan is a fan of the program — for two simple reasons.

"I get to play, and I get to practice," he said.

Many of the boys and girls in the program never skated before signing up for the North City Blues.

Young Braylon Curtis is already feeling confident about his skating skills.

"I took to it right away," he said while adding he can skate "superfast!"

The Blues are not planning for this initiative to be a one-shot deal.

The next class is set to hit the ice in the next few weeks, giving more children throughout St. Louis exposure to an opportunity many of their parents never even considered a few decades ago.

Wayne is the morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.

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