Balancing Act

10-year-old Keivonn Woodard’s Love Of The Game Continues To Push Him Forward
By: 
Tom Worgo

Ten-year-old Keivonn Woodard sometimes spends weeks away from his home in Bowie, Maryland, on film locations in Los Angeles and Alberta, Canada.

Woodard, who is deaf, appeared in two episodes of the hit HBO television series, “The Last of Us.”

He also is set to appear in a couple of yet-to-be-released films, including “Fractal,” a science-fiction film in which he appears with his mother, April Jackson-Woodard, and another movie on HBO, as well as a Subaru commercial.

While there are so many struggling actors who would love to be in his position, Keivonn often finds himself longing to be home competing for the Bowie Hockey Club, where he’s played for six years.

It’s clear that hockey is in his heart.

“If I get picked (for a role) and there’s a conflict with hockey I get sad,” Keivonn explained through his interpreter of five years, Nate Croney, who has helped him overcome his disability and adapt to hockey.

It bothered Keivonn, nicknamed “Hollywood” for his goal celebrations, a lot when his work on “The Last of Us” conflicted with him playing for a Bowie 10U travel team. Keivonn had to spend three months in Calgary filming the HBO series, so he ended up skating for a 10U rec team instead.

“He is a very talented player,” Chris Pozerskic, Bowie’s 10U coach, said. “He’s probably the fastest kid on the ice on our team and most other teams. He could easily play travel hockey.”

Croney added: “He’s a leader on and off the ice. He wins at least 65% of his face-offs. I’ve seen him grow so much from when he was struggling with the puck to scoring hat tricks.”

Jackson-Woodard and Keivonn don’t know where they would be in hockey without Croney. Croney has been a coach to the 10-year-old in many ways. Croney has played men’s pickup hockey since 2015.

Before Croney, it wasn’t all smooth skating with interpreters when Keivonn hit the ice in February 2018. Bowie relied on a student interpreter from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., for two months. The problem was the interpreter didn’t know how to skate and was not allowed on the ice for insurance reasons.

Eventually, Bowie decided Croney could be a great fit. Croney has played men’s pickup hockey since 2015, and he started interpreting for Keivonn in April 2018. It still took about two months for everyone to adjust seeing as Croney had only interpreted for adults. With the help of Jackson-Woodard, everybody learned to communicate effectively.

For Keivonn’s first four years of skating with Bowie, Croney was on the ice during practices and scrimmages when half the ice was used. Croney would relay instructions from the coach on a visual basis. Croney also worked with Keivonn on his skating, stick handling and shooting.

Caption: Nate Croney (left) has not only helped as an ASL interpreter for Keivonn Woodard, but he has become an important coach as well.Caption: Nate Croney (left) has not only helped as an ASL interpreter for Keivonn Woodard, but he has become an important coach as well.

From 2021 to 2023—during Keivonn’s two seasons of 10U rec hockey—Croney interpreted from the bench because the length of the ice was used for games. 

“I was trying to do my best to make sure he is the best hockey player he can be, Croney said. “I just honed him in. We explained that when you come to practice you’ve got to mean business. He was fooling around on the ice. When hockey started to get more competitive, the light bulb went on.”

Croney stressed to Keivonn that he needed to practice shooting and stick handling at home. 

Keivonn got the message, and his mother saw a transformation start to occur. 

“The universe kind of aligned for Keivonn when he met Nate,” Jackson-Woodard recalled. “We were very fortunate for Keivonn to have an interpreter like Nate and build a relationship together. Nate learns from Keivonn and Keivonn learns from Nate. They make such a great team.”

The Bowie organization made things easier for Keivonn on the ice during the 2022-23 season. They bought a light system and paid for Croney’s services using part of a $10,000 Washington Capitals and Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation’s Capital Impact Fund diversity grant.

The system has three lights, which are stationed at both ends of the ice and on the bench. The lights, which are operated by Croney on the bench, turn yellow for a line change and red for a stop in play. The lighting system shortened Keivonn’s stints on the ice because the yellow and red colors easily let him know of a line change or stop in play.

“Within two games you could see a difference,” Pozerskic said. “Instead of him staying out there for two or three minutes, it was a minute and a half. By the third period, he could still skate hard. Before that, he would stay on the ice for three minutes. It drove me nuts. Now, he had the same endurance and speed the whole game.”

The Capitals’ grant only paid for this season and Bowie Ice Hockey President Lori Jones isn’t sure if the grant will be renewed. For the previous five years, the Bowie Hockey Club paid for an interpreter. The price ranged from $6,000 to $9,000 per season.

“We just felt like it was the right thing to do,” Jones said. “We needed to give Keivonn every opportunity to play hockey like any other player. I searched for years trying to find grant money.”

Keivonn’s hockey journey started when he was 4 years old, and he dabbled with gymnastics, T-ball and basketball before becoming enamored with hockey. He had his fourth birthday party at Bowie Ice Rink and saw players on the ice in full gear scrimmaging. That’s all it took to spark his interest. He turned to his mother, Jackson-Woodard, and said, “I want to play hockey.”

Jackson-Woodard, who toured all over the world for 13 years with the Quest Theater Company and had a supporting role in a Netflix documentary, had no problem with him playing. However, his father, Dwayne Woodward, did. Dwayne wanted his son to play basketball and football. Dwayne had a long career in basketball and played semipro in Italy for three years.

Nonetheless, Keivonn was soon on the ice for the first time. His father loved taking him to games and practices until he passed away in 2021 from cancer—about a year before Keivonn started filming “The Last of Us.”

Keivonn’s role and personality has only helped him grow into stardom. 

He was even able to meet Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin at a Caps practice in February.

He hugged Ovechkin and was given an autographed stick.

“It was shocking when I met Ovie,” Keivonn said. “I was in disbelief. A lot of people don’t get that opportunity. I definitely feel honored. He is one of my favorite players.”

These days, Keivonn is a blossoming actor. No matter where he goes, people ask him for autographs and selfies. It was difficult at first because he was really shy. But he says he’s gotten used to the attention.

There might be more conflicts with hockey as his acting career moves forward, but Keivonn sees hockey as his priority. “My goal is to play in the NHL and for the Washington Capitals,” Keivonn concluded. “I would play my games and then go act on the side in the offseason. When I am finished with hockey, I would focus all my time on acting.” 

Until then, he’ll continue to balance his two passions as best he can.

Issue: 
2023-07

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