By Cecil Wright, Sports Columnist
On the evening of March 12, I had the pleasure of being the public address announcer for the annual “Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes” Memorial Hockey Game. This was a game that featured two evenly matched teams with rosters filled with African Nova Scotian athletes, many of whom were among the best players on their teams when they were coming up.
It was a matchup of the Truro Victorias against the Africville Seasides, just to add to the nostalgia and sentiment of this annual event. I was thrilled as the crowd filed in and almost had the rink filled to capacity. To give this event the support it deserves, credit most be given to the Black Ice Society who have been the driving force behind this event in addition to the other hockeyrelated activities they provide, such as the Black Youth Hockey Initiative, which gives guidance and provides hockey equipment to aspiring young black hockey players.
Unfortunately, I’m certain that part of the guidance these young players receive revolves around appropriate reactions and responses when they are subjected to being the target of racial slurs and epithets. I’m willing to state that each one of those players who took to the ice on March 12 has heard the vicious name-calling and catcalls that could escalate into violence on the ice or in the stands.
One specific reason I was pleased to add my participation to this special game was I knew it would give me an opportunity to speak with Halifax Hawks goaltender, Mark Connors, who was victimized this past winter while playing in a tournament on Prince Edward Island.
It wasn’t sufficient that he was repeatedly called that horrendous word which is often the catalyst for reciprocal violence while on the ice and on the street. As well, he was verbally assaulted while inside of their hotel.
When I spoke to Mark, he exclaimed that he heard every word when he was trying to help his team win. He said it was very disappointing and upsetting that the opposition would resort to such terrible behavior. For the first incident, five spectators, who were players from another team who were not participants in the tournament, and were there supposedly cheering on the opposition, shouted multiple racial slurs at Mark.
Naturally, Mr. Connors wanted to discuss the incident with tournament officials, who he said called him later that evening saying they would keep an eye on things for the remainder of the tournament.
The on-ice officials were told by the bench several times, and Mark himself, about what was unfolding. “It’s heartbreaking that Mark must put up with this nonsense simply because he wants to play hockey said an exasperated Mr. Connors.
When I asked Mark how he was able to maintain his composure in the face of such repulsive moments, he replied “I know that if I retaliate, it will be me who gets in the most trouble. So, I just try to beat them on the scoreboard. That’s the best way to get them back.”
This is a young teenager who volunteers his time to help teach those young black hockey players who participate in the Black Youth Hockey Initiative. Teaching young goalies how to take proper angles in handling the puck and the nuances of stickwork and moving the puck.
I am very proud to see that Mark has the courage to stand up for his principles and has continued to act as a youth advocate for equity, diversity, and inclusion in hockey. It’s unfortunate that some others involved in the sport do not share his mettle.
Five of the opposition players from the tournament were suspended twenty-five games for their actions during the event. They all appealed the ban. Mark stated that their parents defended them, as not one opposing player would face him on camera. Apparently, the only people who heard the disgusting dialogue were Mark, his teammates, and the Halifax Hawks supporters.
No person heard anything, but Mark said, “I’m a person and I heard it.”
It is absolutely despicable that the focus was taken away from the game and cast onto the back of a fine young teenager who was trying to enjoy hockey with his teammates.
By the way, Mark played extremely well in the net for the Africville Seaside’s, facing seasoned players twice his age. This young man has exceptional potential. He also has a remarkable attitude and supportive parents. That’s half the battle.
Photo by TPhoto by Tima Miroshnichenko: https://www.pexels.com/photo/cold-healthy-bench-man-6847275/