Sunset Park kids shoot and they score!
Although the New York Islanders are early in their inaugural season in Brooklyn, the franchise has already made an impact on the community’s youth. The hockey team recently collaborated with the City Parks Foundation to create a free after-school street hockey program for children ages eight to 12 years old.
The rink, set up on one of the basketball courts in Sunset Park, has been home to the neighborhood’s league for nearly four weeks.
“When the Islanders organization came to us and said, ‘Hey, let’s do something for kids in Brooklyn,; we asked them if a street hockey program was a good idea,” said Jonathan Gamberg, associate director of sports for City Parks. “That’s how it started. We offer free programs to kids in sports, arts, education and community building in New York City.”
Although many of the kids who participated in the program knew little about playing hockey, thanks to the coaches (and the children’s passion), they are quickly learning the basic rules and skills of the game.
“This is week number four. These kids have already gotten a little bit of a taste of what it’s like to play some hockey here in the parks,” Gamberg added. “They’ve loved it. We’ve seen them progress so much. Most of these kids had never picked up a stick week one. Now you look at them, they’re wearing these jerseys and helmets and stickhandling back and forth and passing to their teammates. They’ve really grasped the game.”
The structure of the program started with basic warm ups. Each week, the coaches try to teach to kids a specific discipline. First, kids learned to grip the stick and handle the puck. Then, it was shooting, offense and defense and, eventually, the kids were learning to play scrimmage games.
Coach for City Parks and teacher at M.S. 821 Sunset Park Prep Anthony Giudice gets a satisfaction out of seeing the neighborhood kids learn a sport they wouldn’t without the program.
“It’s a great opportunity for these kids to learn a new sport,” he said. “Most kids around here aren’t familiar with hockey. It’s mostly a soccer and basketball community but, over the last couple of weeks, they’ve shown a lot of improvement in hockey skills.”
Giudice also noted the importance of a child’s development that goes beyond the classroom.
“We always talk about, as an educator, not just teaching them in the classroom but also building community and interacting with other kids,” the local teacher said. “Most of the time kids are afraid to try something new because their self-esteem isn’t high, so this is a great opportunity.”
“One of our kids just scored a goal, and the excitement that he gets out of it, we get that same joy” Giudice said.
The Sunset program has been so popular, there is currently a waiting list to join. For more information, visit www.cityparksfoundation.org/sports/street-hockey.