New York Rangers sponsor rec center hockey clinic

Mott Haven youth can learn how to play hockey, thanks to a free workshop at St. Mary’s Park.

Shawn James, the rec center director at St. Mary's Park plays goalie while a youngster learns how to shoot into the goal. The park and several others in the city are offering free hockey lessons for the next several weeks. Photo by Lisha Arino.

Mott Haven youngsters can learn the game for free

Shawn James, the manager of the recreation center in St. Mary’s Park, was playing goalie in street hockey practice.  As he hunkered down in the net, a boy teed up the ball but, just as it looked like he would shoot, he swiftly moved to the other side and fired the ball towards the goal. The shot was a near miss.

“I saw that!” said James with a laugh. “You tried to fake me!”

James was taking part in an effort spearheaded by the New York Rangers to promote exercise and healthy eating. Along with the Department of Parks and Recreation and Coca-Cola, the team has organized free, once-a-week hockey training sessions for young people 8 to 16.

The first session at St. Mary’s brought about a dozen youngsters to the recreation center on Dec. 12.

Most of the kids had never played hockey before, but they quickly picked it up. Halfway through the session, they were passing the ball to each other and shooting goals, using equipment that had been donated by the Rangers.

Parents sat in the bleachers, cheering on their kids. Meari Santiago’s son, Isaiah was already playing basketball at St. Mary’s when he heard about the hockey program.

“He wanted to try it out and when it comes to sports, I won’t say no,” Santiago said. “It keeps him off the streets,” she said.

Isaiah had never played hockey before, but his mom said he seemed to be enjoying himself.

Macario Quizhpi also found out about the clinic that morning, when he and his son John arrived at the center. “I was like, ‘Let’s try it. You might like this,’” Quizhpi said. “You know, it’s great. At least, we keep him doing something different.”

Like Santiago, he said that he hoped sports would keep his son out of trouble, especially when he gets older.

Staff members at 10 community centers around the city have been trained by the Rangers. They will teach fundamental skills like shooting, passing and defense, according to the Parks Department.

At the end of the eight-week program, participating community centers will play against one another in a tournament. The program will also offer “MVP” and “best attendance” awards. And in February, select participants will be able to see the Rangers play for free.

The program at St. Mary’s Park meets on Saturday afternoons, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at 145th Street and St. Ann’s Avenue. No pre-registration is necessary.

At the end of the clinic, the kids put away their equipment and left the gym with smiles on their faces. James was smiling too. He said that the first day was great and that it was a lot of fun.

He hopes as many as 100 youngsters will participate at the Mott Haven center.

“It’s a feeling out process. Most of them have never played hockey,” he said reflecting on the first day of the clinic. “As long as you see smiles on the kids’ faces, then you know they enjoyed themselves.”

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