Protect, Serve And Play

Chicago Police Use Hockey To Show They’re On The Same Team As Inner City Youth
Joe Paisley

Hockey bonds family, friends and teammates together. It also builds a bridge connecting the Chicago Police Hockey Club and the inner-city youth they meet through the Blackhawks’ fan development and outreach programs.

“Absolutely,” said Joe Barrera, club president and detective with the Chicago Police Department. “Children reach out to say thank you and show how appreciative they are. It’s a positive experience, which hopefully they remember for the rest of their lives.”

Barrera wanted to expand the group’s reach while soothing relations between the police and community. Three years ago, he approached the Blackhawks and the idea “was met with nothing but enthusiasm.”

The pairing gives the police an opportunity to interact with grade school students while enhancing the Blackhawks’ Get Out And Learn (G.O.A.L.) offerings. The volunteers are not officially affiliated with CPD.

“It seemed like a perfect fit. They already have the clinics to teach it. It was just so seamless
for us to go out and assist them,” Barrera said.

“And kids remember us. ‘Officer Joe look how much better I got.’ It’s been a great experience for us and for the Blackhawks.”

Following the clinic, each school receives new equipment so physical education teachers can add the curriculum for additional students and future lessons. This includes 30 Blackhawks street hockey sticks, 30 hockey balls and two nets. Participants also become eligible for a free First Stride (learn-to-skate) program at the franchise’s practice facility. 

About 90,000 Chicago students were introduced to hockey during the 2017-18 season by those programs. It’s a team effort that the Blackhawks are happy to be a
part of. 

“Not only do they help coach and engage with the kids, but their involvement provides the opportunity for Chicago youth to interact with officers in a positive environment,” said Annie Camins, the Blackhawks senior director of fan development. 

All NHL franchises partner with local first responders (which include fire department personnel and emergency medical technicians) in some fashion. The league-wide Learn To Play Initiative, which is done in cooperation with USA Hockey, reaches out to underprivileged youth and others who would not normally get the opportunity to play hockey. 

The Boston Bruins give out more than 100,000 sticks to New England children each season through its school assemblies program, including shipping a pallet of street hockey equipment to 150 schools/community centers, said Mike Dargin, Bruins director of youth hockey and fan development. 

Another program reached 5,000 boys and girls this season by providing $500 of new equipment and four weeks of on-ice sessions at one of 80-plus regional rinks for $100. 

NHL defenseman P.K. Subban started Nashville’s Blueline Buddies, which pairs an officer from the Metro Nashville Police Department and an underprivileged youth during every home game. It gives the two an opportunity to get to know each other.

“Our law enforcement, these are people that leave their houses and may not come back home at the end of the night,” Subban said on when the program was announced in 2017. “That’s the job that they have, so to make them feel good, and to also be able to help underprivileged youth that don’t get an opportunity like everyone else, that come from broken homes, it’s a win-win.”

The experience is meaningful for all involved. 

“Our team is very proud of how this program has grown over time, and it’s truly a special moment to see students’ faces light up with joy and excitement each and every time we enter their gym,” Camins said. 

Barrera knows that feeling well. He is proud of the role the officers continue to play. 

“[Otherwise], they may only see the police when they’re trying to catch the bad guys in their neighborhood and that can be intimidating,” he said. “Seeing us playing and laughing humanizes us and also promotes the game of hockey. We have a great time while building bridges in our community.” 

Joe Paisley is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs.



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