On the way to his first high school hockey practice three years ago, Gonzaga junior Bobby Hally experienced Southeast Washington for the first time. Anacostia seemed worlds away from the Virginia suburb Hally had grown up in. Any apprehensions he may have had quickly subsided.
“Once you get to know the area and how nice the people are around here, you realize it’s just normal every day,” Hally said.
The Eagles are one of nine area high school and college teams that call Fort Dupont Ice Arena their home rink. Located in Ward 7, it is the only public indoor ice skating rink in the District. Fees paid by the teams help keep the rink open and fund free skating opportunities for neighborhood children. Last year, the rink’s Kids on Ice program provided more than 3,000 children with free lessons and equipment rentals.
It wasn’t long before Hally and his teammates got to know some of the neighborhood kids. The rink also functions as a community center, offering after-school activities to neighborhood kids. Even on days when no programs are offered, kids wander in and are welcome to stay.
At a school with in a long tradition of community service, Halley wanted to start something special for the hockey team. He thought of the rink and the neighborhood kids he had grown to love. Last summer, Gonzaga Study Buddies was formed.
“Being at Fort Dupont all the time, we just really like the kids around here and we love the rink,” Hally said. “The rink is really good to us so it was a good thing to start here and not at Gonzaga or somewhere else.”
Once a week before Gonzaga’s varsity practice, a group of fourth- and fifth-grade students from Cornerstone School walk a block down the hill to the arena. Occasionally, other neighborhood kids join in. In an upstairs classroom, the Gonzaga players spread out among the tables and help the younger students with their homework. Afterward, they play games or go outside.
“Every week we just try something different and it always seems to work out because the kids are so great,” Hally said. “It’s great to give back to the community, but it doesn’t feel like you’re giving back. It just feels like we’re up there having fun with the kids.”
As hockey season nears its end, Hally and his teammates have no plans on stopping the program. With no practice to run off to, Hally hopes that now they can arrange a time to skate with the kids — something they have all been asking to do. With more than enough players volunteering to help, Hally thinks they can even keep the program going through the summer.
“I hope its our legacy with the hockey team,” he said, “and that they’ll be doing study buddies for the next 10 years.”
— Toni L. Sandys