BALTIMORE – Good deeds and goodwill continue to flow following the racist on-ice taunts that Washington, D.C.-area hockey player Divyne Apollon II suffered in December, an episode that drew national attention.
Apollon and his mostly-white Metro Maple Leafs of Odenton, Maryland, traveled to nearby Baltimore Sunday for a Scrimmage Against Hate with the city’s mostly-black Banners youth hockey program.
The Banners reached out to the Maple Leafs after hearing about how Divyne, who is black, was taunted with monkey noises by members of a suburban Philadelphia hockey team during a tournament.
Banners officials also invited the Old York Road Raiders, to participate in Sunday’s event but said they never received a response from the club.
So the Banners and Maple Leafs squared off in what was billed as a friendly exhibition that quickly turned into a friendly rivalry game. The Maple Leafs defeated the Banners 5-3 at Baltimore’s Mimi DiPietro Family Skating Center.
“Our kids never get this much excitement, usually they never get anybody to watch them play,” said Antoine Green, a volunteer for the non-profit Banners. “They wanted to show they can play.”
“It was fun, there was a lot of competition out there,” added 17-year-old Banners defenseman Daryo Fletcher. “We played our best. We just came up short.”
The Banners certainly impressed Maple Leafs Head Coach Brad Howington, who said his team was fortunate to leave Baltimore with a win against a less-experienced but very determined opponent.
“That team gave us a run for our money,” Howington said. “They definitely could skate, their goalie was really, really good. They came out and played.”
And folks came out to watch. Banners and Maple Leafs supporters packed the metal bleachers inside the chilly domed rink and cheered the players on. The Scrimmage Against Hate’s message attracted the local media and some of Baltimore’s elected officials, including Mayor Catherine Pugh.
“What I saw out there was people who care about each other,” Pugh said. “You heard that at the end of the game. The young people, when they reached across to the other team, said ‘We’re family.'”
The mayor echoed the sentiments of the Maple Leafs players who rallied around Divyne after they learned that he had been racially taunted.
Their response and Divyne’s story became national news. Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly and defenseman John Carlson were so impressed by way Maple Leafs players stood up for their teammate that they invited the entire team to the Caps’ home game against the St. Louis Blues on January 14.
Maple Leafs players and parents said they want to continue speaking up and speaking out against racism in hockey, and they were thrilled when the Banners called and suggested the scrimmage.
The 15-year-old Banners program focuses on East Baltimore’s at-risk youth and scrapes by season after season largely through donations – monetary and equipment – and the dedication of volunteers and coaches.
With limited funds, the team only practices on ice for an hour each week and only plays one or two games a season. Hockey is an expensive sport for families of means, and more so for those who don’t have.
“There are folks here who have taken in children who are homeless, and there are children out here without fathers,” Pugh said. “So they represent more than just a team, it’s a family.”
The was evident at the game’s opening face-off. Ian Thomas, a former Banners player and now a tight end for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, dropped the puck.
“This feels good. When I played, we only had one official game against a team in D.C.,” Thomas said. “For us to still be going as a unit, a Baltimore City hockey team, it’s great to see.”
Tammi Lynch agreed. She’s the Metro Maple Leafs hockey mom who designed a sticker with the word “racism” and a red hockey stick slashed across it after she heard about the racial abuse Divyne was experiencing on ice.
She hopes that Sunday’s game will help shine a spotlight on the Banners program and generate more contributions from the hockey community and more assistance from Baltimore City’s powers that be to enhance the program.
“Hopefully we can get something going, to help make change,” she said. “These kids (Banners) should have the opportunities. They’re the same as the other kids, but they don’t have the same access, which they should.”
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