William Douglas has written The Color of Hockey blog since 2012. Douglas joined NHL.com in 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, he offers a glimpse into Black Hockey Moms, a support network for black mothers whose sons and daughters play the sport.
Black Hockey Mommies started as a two-person club.
Rochelle Popion and April Scott are two northern California hockey moms who’ve gone on to face each other in their sons’ matches and tournaments, and are often the only black parents in the stands.
They created Black Hockey Mommy’s Facebook Page January 21, 2019 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day – as a place where mothers can celebrate and express their approval of the victories and challenges of playing a son or daughter in a predominantly white sport.
“When we started, it was just me,” Scott said. “Every time I’d go to a tournament, and see another black family I was, like, ‘Hey, are you on Facebook? Come join our group. “
Popion and Scott said they were thrilled when membership reached 25 and were amazed that the numbers were constantly increasing.
“It was just word of mouth and then we got to 100,” Scott said. “Then it was, like, whoa, wait a minute.”
Today, 185 strong members, Black Hockey Mommies is a support network of women who share positive and negative experiences their children have on the ice or in the locker room and business tips and suggestions for hockey on and off the ice.
“I don’t see a lot of black hockey moms, we’re few and far between,” said Meredith Lang, Black Hockey Moms member. Co-founder of Minnesota Unbounded, a hockey program for girls of color. “For us to have a community that keeps growing, trying to navigate the hockey system and what that brings, whether it’s dealing with racism in hockey or whether it’s coming to see the best equipment. We can come to this group from the ground up and feel supported.”
It is a group that black hockey moms dream about, and make it happen. Popion and Scott have long discussed the idea of putting together an all-black team to compete in an elite-level tournament.
“In the Facebook group, we asked the question there: ‘We have the 18U Championship, we created the Championship Team, who is it?'” Bubion said. ”
Upon response, Popion and Scott joined a cast at the Minnesota Showcase Hockey Summer Showdown in Richfield, Minnesota, in June.
The roster slowly came together, starting with 16-year-olds Popion and Scott, defender Gebran Popillon II and forward Leon Jarrett III. The Mums recruited 15 other players from eight states from California to New York to compete in the tournament. Cheetahs are born.
Popion and Scott even hired a black coaching staff led by Mike Weekly, a Los Angeles-area high school and youth hockey coach. Anthony Walsh, who was a forward on the Edina High School hockey team that won the 2013 Minnesota Class 2A Championship, and Gibran Boubion Sr.
“For them to come together and maintain a support system that was dedicated to the positive things for their children and to bring that into the idea of ’let’s just get a team of little brothers together and get a coach,’ that’s no easy feat,” Weekly said. “There are a lot of black people who play hockey, but to find them, to be age-appropriate, skill-appropriate, and then find coaching staff to do it? That says a lot about these moms and how deeply connected they are.”
They had a major connection to Minnesota in Lang, who was a finalist for the 2022 Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award.
She helped book snow time for the Panthers, hooked them up with a T-shirt maker and helped arrange a tour of the Minnesota Wild facilities.
“For them to be able to grab players from all over the country and bring them to Minnesota for the tournament, I just wanted it to be something they couldn’t forget,” Lang said.
The Panthers went 1-2-1 in the tournament. But players and coaches kept the winners away from the valuable bonding experience.
“From day one when we got there, you’ve thought these kids have known each other for years,” Scott said. “They just got engaged. It was cool.”
After organizing their first championship team, Popion and Scott said the Black Hockey Moms are already planning to do it again.
“We want to grow Black Hockey Mommies and leopards as well,” Bubion said. “If we can have more championship teams in the future, it may not be in the near future, for sure we will have more divisions for the Tiger team, and I know all levels will benefit from the experience like the Minnesota experience.”
Photos: Photography by Cindy Nightingale