Meredith Lang was a hockey enthusiast.
She liked the game well enough to play in high school, but left it to pursue an athletic career that brought her to the 2004 U.S. Olympic trials.
Life rolled on. Hockey became a distant memory. Then Lang had two daughters. And as is usually the case, those children changed everything.
It started with Lang’s then 6-year-old Aubrey announcing she wanted to play hockey. That request took Lang back to his own playing days as the only black girl to lace up skates and unexpectedly ignite a passion that would change course in more futures.
“I thought I should have a track runner [for a kid]not a hockey player, “Lang told ESPN recently.” But when Aubrey said she wanted to play, I tried to figure out how to get her into the hockey room. “
Although Aubrey enjoyed the sport, it was clear that there were not many colored girls like her on the ice. It was the same struggle with feeling unseen that Lang had experienced in hockey, and spoiled decades later for a new generation. Only now did Lang feel equipped to do something about it.
It was the speed of hockey that drew her in.
Lang, born in St. Louis, lived there until she was 12. She agreed to her first Blues game with her younger brother, Matt, in what became an unintentional formative experience.
“I remember watching them play and just being captivated,” Lang recalled. “It was so fast and fast. I loved the speed. I do not know why I was attracted to it, but it was not as I thought at the time I could play it. So when we moved to Minnesota and I saw , how great hockey was there, it was like, ‘OK, now is my chance to play’. “
Matt first took to the ice after their move. He even appeared as a goalkeeper for Team Trinidad in “D2: The Mighty Ducks”, which shot in their area. Lang was more hesitant to jump in, but in eighth grade, he felt inspired by Matt’s ascension to give hockey a chance.
It was immediately clear that Lang did not exactly fit the shape. Not that it would stop her.
“When I first started, it was painful,” Lang said. “I was old enough to admit that I had not played before and I was the only colored girl. Throughout my playing career, it was always myself who was pioneering in hockey for colored girls. I grew up with parents. Encouraged me and said I could be and do anything I wanted. I never wanted to be the person who fit into a box. It was always, ‘No, I want to throw a basket ball and play hockey’. “
Lang joined the high school university team, but in his youth he had to choose between hockey and court. There were no college hockey scholarships in her future – “I was not good enough to play at level” – so Lang put his efforts into excelling on the court and became a court star at Division II Morningside College in Iowa.
During his four years there was Lang 15 times All-American, twice USTFCCCA National Outdoor Track & Field Athlete of the Year and twice NCAA Division II heptathlon. In 2002, Lang finished fifth at the USATF Championships in heptathlon, and in 2004 he went to the USATF Olympic trials in the event where he finished ninth. She has since been inducted into the Division II Hall of Fame.
No wonder Lang thought she would pass on her girls. However, they had another path in mind. And Lang’s past as an outsider would pave the way.
When Lang’s family left St. Louis, they settled in Richfield, Minnesota. It was there that she moved her own family – after a stay in North Carolina – when Aubrey talked about hockey.
Lang quickly got Aubrey involved in the Bloomington Girls Hockey Club, which is based in another suburb next to Richfield. Aubrey stood out in a sea of all-white teammates, so mother and daughter brainstormed how it could be solved. Their solution was to get more BIPOC girls into the building.
Aubrey started by recruiting his best friend, Adelyn Janzig de la Luz, who is a Mexican American, to come and play. Then it was Aubrey’s sister, Mia, and Adelyn’s sister, Elisa, who came on board. Their foursome was hooked on hockey, hoping more colored girls would join. That was all Lang, along with Adelyn and Elisa’s mother, Laura, needed to know before he helped found Hockey Niñas.
Their goal with the program was to focus on colored girls who love hockey. It is typically a non-traditional sport to practice in BIPOC communities, and Hockey Niñas believed that the feeling of being seen was the key to girls being able to participate.
“It was about encouraging other girls to do it [come to] hockey, that’s really why we started Niñas, “Lang said.” It was just [older] girls and their sisters trying to get other colored girls to come out, watch them play, see how much fun they had [and posting about it] on their social media platforms. “
When the group was public, Lang and Laura began participating in roundtable discussions and focus groups within the hockey sphere in Minnesota to share their thoughts on a need for more representation.
“As a black parent and Latino parent, we knew we could go into our community and truly be pioneers in getting more colored kids into the game and doing our part to get more [inclusion]said Lang. “But it was nothing formalized. It was just through social media and the dissemination of inspirational articles. “
Lang was increasingly invested in his mission and was looking for ways to expand this purpose further. Her friend Jennifer Flowers, commissioner at the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, came up with an idea.
In early 2021, Flowers introduced Lang to former Bemidji State defender Tina Kampa. In no time, Lang and Kampa had formed a close bond – and collaborated on a common vision to lift the BIPOC girls’ faces in hockey.
That was when Minnesota Unbounded was born.
Tina Kampa was like most recent graduates: eager to get started on the next chapter, unsure of how exactly to do it.
The native Maple Grove, Minnesota, was proud of its academic and athletic career spent patrolling Bemidji State’s blue line. Hockey had always run deep for Kampa. She strived to do even more in the sport, including how to create opportunities for young colored girls.
Kampa began to hear about Hockey Niñas through various collegiate connections. She loved the program and wanted to meet the girls who started it. Kampa did not know that Meredith Lang was steering her life in a new direction.
“When Meredith and I ended up together, she told us what they had done and how she wants to have an impact on the game,” Kampa said. “These were some of our joint missions that were connected with [asking], ‘Is there a way to work together, in a way, so that we can do something bigger than we might have originally thought?’ And it became Minnesota Unbounded. “
What Kampa and Lang founded together was different from Hockey Niñas. The goal of Niñas was to make the game more inclusive for BIPOC girls; Minnesota Unbounded was to be a tournament team that showcased the underrepresented players.
Niñas had given Lang an opportunity to make contacts and develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the hockey community. She wanted to channel all that into the unlimited. Along the ultimate vision was a program she did not see already working where aspiring BIPOC players from across the state would not feel held back by race, gender or economic status.
And the Hockey Niñas were folded right into the new endeavor, making it a unit determined to count every girl.
“As part of Minnesota Unbounded, I feel like we’re America’s team,” Lang said. “Because when we wanted to get started, we did not know what we were doing. We just knew people. Tina had connections, and I had connections through Hockey Niñas, and we just reached out to people.”
For Unbounded to succeed, it had to be available. Hockey is a notoriously expensive sport that requires equipment and ice age, which often prices lower-income (and even middle-class) families. Lang and Kampa needed ways to reduce costs.
Along the first stop was Richfield Ice Arena, where she played high school hockey. Richfield does not have a girls program – hence Lang’s daughters who play in Bloomington – but the ice rink was a comfortable partner.
The ice rink came through with subsidized ice for training on specific dates, which was the first step in making this vision a realistic reality.
Lang then went to Bloomington and asked if they would be willing to offer subsidized ice cream on those dates when Richfield’s was not available. Bloomington was also present. Lang and Kampa were “honored” by how society rose, especially when the US Bank volunteered to provide the team with jerseys.
These contributions enabled Unbounded to hold seven weekly exercises, bring in guest speakers, and equip its girls without breaking the bank; the price for a family was $ 150 for the entire program.
“We have a limited budget of cheap ice cream and all of our coaches are on a voluntary basis,” Lang said.
It was Kampa who tracked down the team’s coaches (and of course she is). Kampa leaned on old friends – like Maia Martinez, a senior at Union College, and Nina Rodgers, the first black hockey coach for women’s college, now in Dartmouth – to join the organization’s ranks.
As Unbounded grew from its original 31 players to over 50, several coaches donated their time to the ever-growing roster.
“It was pretty easy to get people on board and excited about what we could potentially do,” Kampa said. “It takes a village. We were able to get these colored young girls on a tournament team, and it blew up into something much bigger than just playing together; it became a community and a mentoring program and showed these girls that there is women in the game who have achieved things and they have the ability to connect with these people too. “
Minnesota Unbounded is a passion project. A side hustle if you will.
Lang works full time as a business partner for organizational development for a subsidiary of Delta Airlines, called Endeavor Air. And Kampa is an assistant coach at Hamline University, plus she coaches kids ages 7-17 at OS Hockey.
The Unbounded is for any pocket of leisure they can muster.
“Tina and I text thousands of times a week,” Lang said. “She works on practice plans, and I run with the ice ages. And we’re becoming a nonprofit, so we can help get more funding, but everything happens in between.”
Their work has attracted attention far and wide. Families from across other states have applied to join Unbounded for a tournament in August. And Unbounded’s mission extends beyond just the present.
Recently, Tennessee State University began raising money to establish Division I women’s and men’s hockey teams, which would be the first for an HBCU school. Lang hopes that Unbounded through future partnerships can “shine a light on the potential of an HBCU with hockey, and for girls to start thinking about playing at an HBCU.”
Lang’s enterprising nature has also led to him being named one of three finalists for the NHL’s Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award along with Noel Acton (co-founder of The Tender Bridge and Banners Hockey) and Ryan Francis (co-founder of Indigenous Girls Hockey Nova Scotia). The winner will receive $ 25,000; the poll for the award is open April 4-17 at NHL.com/OReeAward.
“My passion is to develop the game,” she said. “When our BIPOC children have positive experiences, they will go out and give back to hockey. They will be future hockey parents. They will have to train, they will play at the highest level. They could become the next Olympians; they could be “Beer champions. I do not care. I just want them to be able to give back so we can continue to develop the game that has been underrepresented.”