Any child or teenager, regardless of how shaky he or she might be on skates, can learn how to skate and play hockey for absolutely no charge. They don’t have to pay a single cent – except maybe in gas money. But not for the ice time, hockey sticks or uniforms. The only catch is that they have to supply their report cards throughout the year. This is all thanks to an 80-year-old man who has the Philadelphia hockey world firmly in the palm of his hand.
Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast Spectacor, part-owner of the Philadelphia Flyers and former owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, also runs a little-known youth hockey foundation that is designed to provide the youth of the inner-city with an opportunity to a sport that they would normally only occasionally see on television.
“He really wants this to be his legacy which is pretty incredible considering everything else he has done in his life,” said Scott Tharp, president of the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation since 2007.
Hockey and the inner-city don’t exactly go hand-in-hand and the combination of the two seems odd at first. But Snider’s Hockey Foundation has helped more than 3,000 young people with the mission of “Using the sport of hockey to help educate young people to succeed in the game of life.” The kids are off of the streets and in the ice rinks where they interact with each other and coaches and learn hockey through camps, lessons, and classes. It’d be understandable if someone without much knowledge of the situation assumed that Snider, reportedly worth $2.5 billion, is simply writing checks and doing this to look good to the public. But that isn’t the case.
“Ed Snider is unbelievably hands on,” Tharp said. “We meet every week to talk about what we need to be successful. He frequently visits our rinks and our league games.”
Snider, Tharp and their team of staffers and contributors use a “Plan for Growth” in their efforts to build Snider Hockey. The first step of the plan was the renovation of the rinks. After being mostly an after-school program with the School District of Philadelphia from its creation in 2005 until 2007, Snider Hockey started making major moves in 2008.
“In the beginning, it was set up to provide school-based help in schools throughout the city,” Tharp said. “We helped provide physical education requirements. We decided later that it didn’t really fit our mission and we wanted to address the out-of-school time when kids are more vulnerable to undesirable influence.”
Tharp was hired after several successful years as the executive director of the Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education. Snider Hockey made a deal with the city of Philadelphia after Mayor Nutter had announced that he was going to shut down rinks around the city – along with swimming pools and libraries, because of budgetary constraints.
“We saw this as an opportunity to step in and make an 11th hour deal with the city to save the rinks from closing,” Tharp said. “We invested staffing and money to keep the rinks open. They were all outdoor and only open 12 or 13 weeks a season. In our first year, we saw the need to make the rinks indoor for full-year usage and to install classrooms to make them real community hubs.”
The Foundation saw significant growth over the next few years, going from 900 kids in afterschool programs, to 1,200, to 1,900, and eventually around 3,000 kids on a daily basis at city ice rinks. They also have five rinks in the city now (West Philly, South Philly, Kensington, West Oak Lane and Northeast) and one in Pennsauken, New Jersey for Camden and Pennsauken residents.
“I’ve been here for about five years and when I first came in, all of the rinks were half-outdoors, there definitely weren’t as many kids as there are now,” Zack Damico, Coordinator of Hockey Operations, said. “We’ve seen 30 to 50 kids for an hour slot every night, all week. For summer camps, we went from holding a few camps to having a two or three different camps going on at the same time. The growth that the program has had since I’ve been here is amazing and it’s just great to see.”
But with an expanding number of participants who play for free and an annual operating cost quickly approaching $3 million, where would the money come from to pay for everything?
This is where step two of the Plan for Growth comes in. It’s called “Sensible Growth.”
Snider Hockey wants to grow but not at the expense or loss of services. Tharp said that the foundation could double and expand to 6,000 kids but they’d have to cut down to one or two days per weeks, which isn’t a sensible move. So they try to stay efficient and don’t overstretch themselves. They progress and manage things financially. They do this with the help of donations from major gifts campaigns, corporate support, annual donors’ campaign, the Flyers and of course, Mr. Snider.
“We get a lot of donations from the hockey community, all over Philadelphia,” Damico said. “We get a lot of help from some of the big hockey companies. A lot of it is donations. Mr. Snider is a big part of it, obviously. This is his baby and he provides a lot of help for the equipment, the jerseys, the ice time and everything we do.”
Snider has made a lifelong pledge to match every donation that the foundation receives with $2 of his own. This makes it easier for Tharp and his team at the foundation to go to a potential contributor and say that they’re donation would be tripled with the help of Snider. If they donate $1,000, it turns into a $3,000 donation.
“It helps us stay ahead of the curve because there are so many other good organizations out there that look for donations,” Tharp said.
This financial flexibility allowed Snider Hockey to tell the kids that they don’t need to worry about paying for ice time or equipment like they would at other hockey camps or if they joined local football and basketball leagues.
“We understand that hockey isn’t an easy entry-level sport because of the cost of equipment and ice time,” Tharp said. “The average hockey parent for one child pays around $2,500 a year just to join a team. Those are insurmountable obstacles for the kids that we wanted to target to bring in to our foundation.”
So the kids don’t pay for any of it. They are just asked to pay in sweat equity, meaning they are expected to go to school every day, show up on time to the ice rink, and produce their report card in a timely fashion so that the staffers at the foundation, most of which are former hockey players and college graduates, can provide academic help when needed. The emphasis with Snider Hockey is just as much on the academic aspect as the hockey aspect. The kids are expected to hold at least a C standard, and if they slip into C- or D-grade territory, then some ice privileges are revoked and academic support is provided to get them back on track.
“The coaches kind of assist in letting the kids know how important it is to work hard in school, do your homework, all of that stuff,” Damico said. “On top of all of the hockey coaches, we have academic assistants, where their focus is making sure we have report cards and making sure these kids get extra help with a subject or just providing extra study sessions.”
What’s another benefit of having the chairman of Comcast and owner of the Flyers name on your jersey? How about visits from professional hockey players? Multiple members of the Flyers, including Wayne Simmonds, visits the rinks to teach and help run camps. Many members of the team contribute money in addition to their time. Former Flyer Danny Briere and current Flyers Kimmo Timonen and Scotty Hartnell are all on the Board of Directors for Snider Hockey.
“This year, we had the entire team skate at one of our rinks in Kensington for a 45-minute practice,” Damico said. “They came out and practiced and all of the kids came out and watched. We’ve had Scott Hartnell come out one day during the summer camp, Wayne Simmonds has been here for a practice. They definitely get involved, they help out a lot. They’ve got pretty busy schedules but they usually make it out once or twice a year.”
Tharp added, “We’re very fortunate for Mr. Snider being able to leverage his assets and get visits from the team.”
Kids are also encouraged to stay with the program year-in and year-out. They start in the early stages, learn how to skate, learn hockey and then most develop enough to play in leagues as they get older. Mujahay Abusamay is a 16-year-old who has been with Snider hockey since its inception eight years ago and now is a member of its 16-and-under midget competitive team.
“I learned about Snider through my mom, actually,” Abusamay said. “And ever since then, I’ve continued to like and play hockey. I first started roller skating with my brothers and my mom, when she was first in the area. She stopped by here and found out that they do hockey here. So she signed me up, I came out here and I’ve liked it ever since.”
Abusamay added that Snider hockey allowed him to learn and meet new people. He now teaches younger kids and said the best part is seeing them learn to love the game and be in a good environment.