By Akeya Dickson
Thursday, September 23, 2010; PG20
Physical education teacher Charles Silberman was intent on introducing hockey, cricket and other lesser-played sports to his Kenmoor Elementary students.
"It's understandable how kids can get into football and basketball; it's easier and cheaper to play because all you really need is the ball," he said. "But hockey is very cost-prohibitive; equipment costs up to $1,000."
The lifelong Washington Capitals fan, who plays hockey, signed the school up for the Capitals Hockey School program, a series of hockey clinics and visits from right winger Matt Bradley, goalie Semyon Varlamov and mascot, Slapshot.
Raucous cheers erupted in the school's cafeteria, which doubled as a sized-down hockey stadium Sept. 15. Sporting red shirts in true Caps-fan fashion, the crowd cheered a team of students to a 2-1 victory over a team of teachers.
"I knew they'd be excited, but I didn't know they'd be this excited," Silberman said.
Peter Robinson, the Capitals' youth hockey coordinator, announced at the end of the program that the team was donating hockey equipment to the school. Almost every school the program visits incorporates hockey into their physical education program.
"I think it's important on the grass-roots level to get kids engaged," Robinson said. "They may see it on TV, but they don't have access to play or equipment because it's so expensive. This gives them an opportunity to get hands-on with the sport."
The 178 students quickly got into the hockey way of things, leaping from their seats, yelling "defense," booing, clapping and offering up impassioned chants while waving their fists in the air. Slapshot psyched up the crowd by banging his hockey stick on the ground during the scrimmage.
"The kids were enthusiastic and loud, and that made it all the better," said Bradley, who helped teach the kids about stick handling, passing and how to score. He demonstrated wrist shots, snap shots, backhand shots and his 100-mile-an-hour slap shot. "This is my second or third time doing this," he said. "We all like to take our turns because the kids are great."
Bradley, who started playing hockey when he was 4 and growing up in Canada, said kids can benefit from being exposed to the sport.
"The more you spend your time doing constructive things like sports and music, the better," he said. "It's definitely very cool."
Silberman said that programs such as this go well beyond the sport.
"It's a launching pad to integrate other subjects. We can talk about the geography of Semyon being from Russia and Matt being from Canada to the science of skating and how to shoot," he said.
"When we were talking about it, half of the students barely knew what hockey involved. It makes such a difference for them to see these players who are celebrities and professional athletes come out and be so down to earth," Silberman said.
Sixth-grader Ayomide Omogoke, 12, of Upper Marlboro brought modest experience to the event, having seen a few hockey games. He was selected to play goalie, wearing pads, a mask and gloves.
Standing at the ready and rocking back in front of the net, Ayomide received tips from Varlamov. He shot at Ayomide, who dropped to his knees to block the orange balls with his body.
"It was fun but kind of hot," Ayomide said. "I've played before but never as a goalie. The equipment was kind of heavy, but I didn't feel anything from the balls because everything was so thick."
Principal Nicole Crumpler said that she wants the school to offer more positive programs to broaden the children's horizons.
"We want to expose African American children to new sports and experiences here," said Crumpler, who is in her first year as principal and was a student at the school. "The majority of our kids are from the Glenarden area. They're trying to take ownership of their education and are celebrated through programs like this."