William Douglas has been writing the Hockey Colors blog since 2012. Douglas joined NHL.com in 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, he introduces Black Hockey Moms, a support network of Black mothers whose children play the sport.
The Black Hockey Mommies started out as a two-man club.
Rochelle Popyon and April Scott are two Northern California hockey moms who meet constantly at their son’s games and tournaments and are often the only black parents in the stands.
they created Black Hockey Mom Facebook Page January 21, 2019 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day – serves as a place where mothers can celebrate and sympathize with the triumphs and challenges of getting their son or daughter involved in a predominantly white sport.
“When we started, it was just her and me,” Scott said. “Every time I go to a game, I see another black family and it’s like, ‘Hey, are you on Facebook? Come join our group.'”
Popyon and Scott said they were delighted when membership reached 25 and were surprised by the growing number.
“It was just word of mouth, and then we got as many as 100 people,” Scott said. “And then it was like, ‘Wow, wait a minute.'”
Today, Black Hockey Momies has 185 members, a support network of women who share positive and negative experiences their children have on the ice or in the locker room and exchange tips related to ice and ice hockey and suggestions.
“I don’t see a lot of black hockey moms, we’re rare,” said Meredith Long, a black hockey mom member. Co-founder of Minnesota Unbounded, a hockey program for girls of color“Let’s have a community that continues to grow and try to navigate the hockey system and what it brings, whether it’s dealing with racism in hockey or figuring out what the best equipment is. We can come from start to finish to this group and feel supported.”
This is a group that black hockey moms dream of and works to make them come true. Popyon and Scott have long discussed the idea of forming an All Blacks team to compete in elite-level tournaments.
“In the Facebook group, we just asked a question: ‘We have an 18U tournament, we built a tournament team, who’s in?'” Popyon said.
Based on the responses, Popyon and Scott participated in the Minnesota Showcase Hockey Summer Finals in Ridgefield, Minnesota, in June.
Starting with Poppyon and Scott’s 16-year-old son, guard Gibran Popyon II and forward Leon Garrett III, the roster slowly came together. The moms recruited 15 other players to play in eight states from California to New York. The Panthers were born.
Popyon and Scott even recruited an all-Black coaching staff led by Los Angeles area high school and youth hockey coach Mike Weekley. Anthony Walsh was a forward on the Edina High School hockey team that won the 2013 Minnesota Class 2A Championship with Gibran Popyon Sr. as his assistant.
“Bringing them together and maintaining a support system that is designed to have a positive impact on their children, embodied in the idea of ’let’s form a team of young brothers together and hire a coach’ It’s not easy,” Wakeley said. “There are a lot of black people playing hockey, but finding them, age-appropriate, skill-appropriate, and then finding the coaching staff to do it? That says a lot about these mothers and how deeply connected they are.”
They have significant ties in Minnesota, and Long is a finalist for the 2022 Willie Orie Community Hero Award.
She helped book ice time for the Panthers, connected them with a jersey maker, and helped arrange a tour of the Minnesota Wilds facility.
“For them to be able to recruit players from all over the country and bring them to Minnesota to play, I just hope it’s something they can never forget,” Long said.
The Panthers went 1-2-1 in the game. But players and coaches emerge from the valuable combined experience.
“From the first day we got there, you would think these kids had known each other for years,” Scott said. “They just come together. It’s amazing.”
After organizing their first tournament team, Popyon and Scott say the Black Hockey Momies already plan to do so again.
“We want to grow the Black Hockey Mommies team and grow the Panthers,” Popyon said. “If we have more championship teams in the future, probably not in the near future, and the Panthers will definitely have more divisions, I know all levels will benefit from our experience in Minnesota.”
Photo: Cyndi Nightengale Photography