Program in Rochester keeping hockey affordable, growing game for all

    Hockey is a sport that can carry a big price tag for youth leagues. That cost barrier, among others, can keep some people on the bench. (WHAM photo)

    Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - Tucked between the 19th Ward neighborhood in Rochester and the University of Rochester River campus, you'll find passion, grit and fun on the ice.

    The Genesee Valley Youth Hockey program is a city-funded program that offers free hockey lessons for city residents.

    It's a program that drew Florence Clemmons and her son, Elliott Clemmons, 13 years ago.

    "With hockey, everyone says it’s so expensive and that’s why I really got more into it, so we can remove that expense barrier," said Florence Clemmons, Program Director of the Genesee Valley Youth Hockey Program.

    Gear and leagues can cost thousands of dollars. This program provides donated equipment.

    That attracted Jim Morris, whose son has been skating since he was six years old and now plays in Webster.

    "Parents didn’t necessarily have to invest a lot of money to find out if their kids want to play hockey or not," Morris said.

    Clemmons takes the term 'hockey mom' to a new level.

    Now the program's director, with her son every step of the way. Elliott Clemmons now plays with the Junior Monarchs.

    "Seeing her growing the game and even my dad too. It’s been a fun ride," Elliott said.

    "It’s about access," said Florence. "Some children may not have the opportunity to get to and from, so that can be one of the challenges they face. The other challenge is just exposing it to them."

    Opportunities for competitive play is perhaps the biggest hurdle for some of Genesee Valley Youth Hockey's players.

    "The biggest challenge was being able to rise above the adversity of the coaching, the parent coaching and its almost empirical inability to realize talent coming from a different race," said Charles Finley III, who also coaches the team.

    Finley is one of the coaches for the Genesee Valley Youth Hockey Program. He points to players who could not make Rochester youth leagues.

    "Charles Finley, my son and Gage Smith are both playing for the Wheatfield Blades, which is a triple A team," Finley said. "It’s the highest level they can play nationally. However they couldn’t make a team in Rochester. They couldn’t even make a AA team in Rochester."

    "Oh, it’s definitely because of their color," said Finley III, when asked why he thought that was the case.

    Race is a barrier recognized by the NHL. It launched a "Hockey Is For Everyone" campaign, an ongoing effort to celebrate the sport's diversity and inclusion.

    That matters to defensemen Gage Smith, who put on his first pair of skates at age three.

    "You look at it and there’s not too much of that. Not too many brown people," Smith said.

    According to the NHL, there are 26 black active players in the league.

    Some of those players are on Smith's favorite team: the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

    "They have a lot of representation on that team," said Smith.

    Like any program, it's a family - a program that continues to ignite the hopes and dreams of young children.

    "Don’t give up, no matter what," said Elliott.

    "I just love the sport so I don’t really care what someone says to me. I just keep going," Gage Smith said.

    They are just a few of the many who aim to continue on and grow the game for a future generation.

    The program would like to create a city-wide team for home schooled and Rochester City School students to compete.

    If you're interested in learning more about the Genesee Valley Youth Hockey Program, click here. See below for more of a breakdown on the number of black players in the NHL.

    NHL Black Hockey, By the Numbers:

    • 27 black active players this season, including most recently Caleb Jones (Seth Jones’ brother) and Mathieu Joseph
    • 64 black players now inactive, including most recently Johnny Oduya, Jarome Iginla, Chris Stewart
    • 18 players ‘in the system’ – drafted by an NHL team but haven’t skated in their first game yet
    • 9 black players have won a Cup: Grant Fuhr (5), Johnny Oduya (2), Trevor Daley (2), Eldon Reddick (1), Dustin Byfuglien (1), Jamal Mayers (1), Ray Emery (1), Devante Smith-Pelly (1), Madison Bowey (1)
    • 6 behind the bench, past and present – Fred Brathwaite (goaltending coach), Grant Fuhr (goaltending coach), Frantz Jean (goaltending coach), Paul Jerrard (assistant coach), Nigel Kiwran (video coach), Sudarshan Maharaj (goaltending coach)
    • 2 Officials, Jay Sharrers and currently Shandor Alphonso
    • 3 families in NHL history: Subbans, Jones, Stewarts
    • 3 families on the horizon: Jordan and James Greenway, Gemel and Givani Smith and Mathieu and Pierre-Olivier Joseph
    • 2 in the HHOF: Fuhr and O’Ree (Angela James makes 3)

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