Rochester free youth hockey program

ROCHESTER, NY – “This way,” shouts the woman in the gray sweatshirt standing by the bench gate at the Genesee Valley Ice Arena in Rochester. She lets two chirps from her whistle fill April Saturday morning at the town of Rochester’s ice rink.

“She’s the reason everyone is here,” said one parent, who watched his son prepare for the program’s final morning. “We would not have any of this without her.”

Florence Simmons commands an ice rink with the ease of a Calder Cup champion. She is a self- and hockey mother who can just as easily sling hockey equipment back over her shoulder as a portable attaché.


What you need to know

  • Genesee Valley Youth Hockey is a city in the Rochester program that offers young people from the city a chance to play hockey through the winter at no cost.
  • Florence Simmons, mother of a former youth hockey and college hockey player, leads the program
  • Rochester Americans alumni and youth hockey players and coaches volunteer to introduce participants to the game; from learning to skate to learning the game’s skills and rules

When she laces a pair of skates on a 10-year-old, she smiles and chats the child up with the kind of teasing one would hear from an old hockey coach.

Then again, “Flo”, as everyone at the Genesee Valley Ice Arena knows her, knows every kid in her youth hockey program. Most she found through referrals and word of mouth. She did not recruit them for their talent.

“What we’re about here is giving children and giving families a chance to experience a game that, because of its cost because there are not many colored people playing it, is not considered an option for young people from neighborhoods like those around here, “Simmons said.” It’s a possibility. And we expect the children and the families to respect that. “

Simmons and her legion of volunteers at the Genesee Valley Youth Hockey program have been hitting the ice with kids for 18 years.

From 5-year-olds to high school students, most who show up have never skated before, much less know the game.

“Some have never seen the game before. But we fix it. Some have played games like football or basketball. We help them realize that it’s just another game,” Simmons said.

The cost of playing hockey deters many from experiencing it. Cost is not an obstacle for Flo’s program. Handy-me-downs from travel and high school programs keep an equipment room full. Families get a bag full of equipment for the season. Players retain it if they follow the program’s expectations of their behavior with their parents and coaches.

“She’s tough. She makes everyone work hard,” one player said.

“Helping kids set goals is not just about hockey. Being a good steward of the community. And how to give back; it’s just as important as learning to skate, learning to pass and scoring,” Simmons said.

“It was one of those things that drew me to her,” said Denise Mulando of Rochester, whose 9-year-old daughter Jayla skates in Flo’s program. “She’s always behind her parents.” Do you, like, do what your mother told you to do? “” It’s important to us. “

Flo and her husband help raise donations for the program. They have also shared their own resources. It’s a commitment they made after their son Elliott went from ankle skater to high school and travel player, to college forward at Endicott College.

“Some kids, they grow in the game. They want to do better. We get some kids to go to school and travel hockey. And if that happens, it’s great,” Simmons said. “But that’s not why we are here.”

Members of the Rochester Americans Alumni Association join college and high school players to provide instruction and supervision on the ice. Amtrak’s great Steve Langdon rounds out Hall of Farmers like Jody Gage and Jim Hofford, who live off Flo’s energy.

“It’s incredible to see her,” Hofford said. “She’s such a role model for the kids. She has such a passion; a real force of nature.”

A grandparent who sees his grandson skating through rehearsals on the program’s last Saturday morning believes the hockey program in the Genesee Valley plays an important role for young people living in a community where crime and violence are part of growing up.

“It’s a great thing, not only to broaden their perspective, but to make a contribution to the sport,” he said. “We (black Americans) are underrepresented in a sport that is a major presence in the culture of the place where we live.”

As many as 80 children have participated in the program, which drops the puck in October, runs a session in December and then runs a long season from January to April.

“It’s a blessing to see how these kids that I’ve gone after or just made them aware of the opportunity,” Simmons said. “They do not need to know how to skate. We show them everything they have to learn. I love seeing the new faces every year. And the parents, who probably ask themselves some Saturdays: ‘why am I taking my child in? in this cold arena in the winter? ‘”

Since the city is now funding this program, Flo has no intentions of stopping now.

“That’s what makes me come back,” Simmons said. perhaps the commitment that these families make can help children grow. “

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