The task they set themselves was not an easy one; three Black men trying to
start a hockey awakening. Make the game not only more diverse, but more
open. Spread the love of hockey to kids and their families. Help everyone
feel hockey culture, Canadian culture, has a place for them.
To say Kirk Brooks, his son Nathaniel Brooks and NHL alumnus Anthony
Stewart have been successful in that task is an understatement. Seaside Hockey may be the first
step in revolutionizing the game.
“When it came to hockey, I basically just showed up to the game to support
and I didn’t even realize how different it was in terms of the race
aspect,” says Seaside Hockey parent Anike Arthur. “I didn’t think anything
of it until it was really in the forefront to see these kids out there who
have the abilities but just weren’t given opportunities.
“Imagine how many more opportunity there would be in the sport of hockey
[for Black players] if this had happened earlier.”
Kirk Brooks thinks about that a lot. The Seaside founder has been working
in the game for over 30 years, hosting camps and tournaments for Black
players. Seaside is dedicated to Black players as well, though Brooks says
it is open to all who want to learn the game.
“We have families with Seaside … who are from a diverse background, and
nobody has ever asked them whether their kids were interested in playing
hockey,” Brooks explains.
“Hockey is marketed to hockey, and we need to change that.”
The concept and motto for Seaside Hockey – Breaking Through Expectations –
has been slowly building over the last few years. With every racially
charged incident he witnessed first-hand or watched on TV, Brooks was
increasingly motivated to create an association dedicated to underserved
communities. He finally put in an application with the Greater Toronto Hockey League
last season and received the charter in late June 2021. Three months later,
120 players were registered and outfitted head-to-toe, even if the parents
didn’t know how to dress the kids yet.
“They had volunteers there helping us lace them up properly and putting on
the hockey gear,” laughs Dainah Ramsay at the recent memory. “It was like
an assembly line to send them off onto the ice.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m holding my breath,’ as he was stepping out
onto the ice.”
Ramsay’s five-year-old son, Moses, had started playing mini-sticks in the
family living room during the various pandemic-related school breaks over
the last two years. When she got a call from a former co-worker about a new
hockey association, she sent her husband and son to look into it.
They came home busting with excitement and Moses stepped onto the ice for
the first time a week later.
“We can’t explain enough how passionate Moses is,” Ramsay says. “We are
commitment to growing his career through Seaside.
“I can’t say enough about them.”
Before their introduction to Seaside, neither the Ramsay nor Arthur
families had much interest in organized hockey. Makio and Mikhail Arthur
had tried once but didn’t take to the cold rink or early-morning practices.
Now they spend the week counting the days until the next Saturday or Sunday
Arthur commends Seaside for helping her boys fall in love with the game.
“Knowing they didn’t have to be the best at it, they’re still at the
learning stages,” Arthur says, explaining that the entire association has
been focused on skill development and skating skills through the first
portion of the season.
“It’s not competitive at all, it’s more encouraging.”
Brooks expects Seaside Hockey will continue to grow, saying it could have
200 kids playing this season, but additional support is needed to ensure it
can outfit any registrant who needs it. All to ensure not only the player
is supported in their hockey journey, but also the whole family.
“If you're an immigrant to Canada or … minority of any color, we want to
let you know that this game is for you … it’s a beautiful game,” Brooks
says. “We just want more kids to be able to play the game which has always
been my mission.
“More kids playing the game.”