Alexandria Briggs-Blake has never let her vision get clouded by tragedy.
Almost five years after a fire burned down the Tucker Road Ice Rink in Fort Washington, Maryland, the Tucker Road Ducks are skating once again on home ice.
Briggs-Blake, who founded the Tucker Road Parent Hockey Organization, Inc. (TRPHO) in 2013, is striving to make hockey accessible and affordable to children of all backgrounds.
After a devastating fire threatened that mission, a new state-of-the-art, $28-million, NHL-sized facility that opened Aug. 28 certainly helps the cause of the TRPHO.
“The parent hockey org, this is our rebirth back in our new facility,” Briggs-Blake said. “We lost some players along the way that grew enough to go ahead and start playing on travel teams. It’s a wonderful sort of conduit for the kids who are coming out to play hockey. We’re keeping costs low. We can provide equipment. We can help with registration fees. The idea is to get as many kids on the ice as possible.”
The Ducks organization had nearly 40 hockey players in January 2017 when the fire altered plans. Some players moved onto junior programs and colleges while others transitioned to different organizations. By the end of November of this year, the Ducks were back up to almost 30 kids competing.
Briggs-Blake’s vision started when she wanted to get her 4-year-old son involved in hockey. Briggs-Blake knew that her family and other Black families weren’t signing up for hockey as a primary sport.
Briggs-Blake signed her son up for hockey at Tucker Road Ice Arena. However, when it came time for him to play games, he had to change hockey organizations because of the Tucker Road rink program’s offerings.
Briggs-Blake wanted to make sure her son got an equal opportunity to skate.
According to Briggs-Blake, Prince George’s County is predominantly made up of minorities and hockey really isn’t a popular sport in the area. She wanted to give kids the awareness and accessibility to play hockey.
“It’s important to grow it, because hockey is for everyone,” Briggs-Blake said. “We are the United States of America. There shouldn’t be one or two sports or whatever that are predominately one persuasion over the other when all of us together play. Nothing should be determined based on color.”
In order to get the TRPHO started, Briggs-Blake reached out to the county’s park and recreations department — those folks were very supportive. The organization was established and nonprofit status was obtained.
“Before the fire, we supported them with fundraisers and we would hold our banquets, had a couple of tournaments, we went and traveled and won a tournament in Pennsylvania one year,” Briggs-Blake said. “We were just growing and moving and then the fire happened in 2017, and we were like, ‘Oh no.’”
With the rink closed down, Ducks players had to look elsewhere to get on the ice.
“I shifted really into gear that time because I felt like, this doesn’t mean the team is over,” Briggs-Blake said. “This just means that now we have to move full steam ahead to ensure our kids have ice time. All of my connections kind of clicked in and I started talking to owners at rinks and we got ice time.”
Briggs-Blake also started advocating aggressively at different levels of government the need for a new rink on Tucker Road.
After countless hours dedicated to making a push for a rink, Briggs-Blake’s dream came to fruition.
“I believe just the ice rink is absolutely beautiful and just the fact that that brand new visually stimulating ice rink is there and now that they’re beginning to build the programs, I think it sets the stage for success,” said LaDonna Tucker, whose son skates for the Ducks. “It’s drawing to the community because it’s appealing with what they have to offer.”
The TRPHO has made so much impact on families in the Prince George’s County area.
That impact hit Tucker first hand. She was looking at getting her 6-year-old son, Charles, involved in hockey in 2018. She noticed a sign outside while passing through Prince George’s County and got in touch with TRPHO.
“We brought Charles in, put him on some skates and they were so welcoming,” Tucker said. “Their sons were a lot older, so Charles at the time was the youngest with the team. He had never skated before; he could not skate. We joined the team and they had a coach as well as an ice skating instructor and within two or three months, he started skating. We just came on board at a good time because the parent org had partnered with the Capitals and the NHL diversity and inclusivity team, so our first experience at a hockey game, we got to go to the game with the team and he was able to meet like six of the key players on the Capitals in the locker room. It was wonderful.
“We had a very good experience introducing him to ice hockey and it’s all he wants to do. The bug has bitten him.”
The opportunity for Charles — who is now in his fourth season in the program — to get on the ice changed his life and has provided him with numerous friendships.
“I will say that just having the ability to build the skills with other teammates and just knowing how to work together, collaboration, just feeling that support and kind of brotherhood and that bond within his team, I believe it has been impactful,” Charles’ mom said.
The Ducks program is designed for boys and girls ages 4-18. Right now, there is only one girl. Briggs-Blake is striving to change that.
Since the new rink didn’t open until the end of August, the organization got a late start on registering players this season.
It is making a major push for the 2022-23 season to get more families involved. Right now, it only has enough players for two recreational teams. Adding travel teams is a big goal for the future as well.
“We are moving full steam ahead,” Briggs-Blake said. “It’s going to be an exciting ride. Our vision is to really grow and by the 2022 season is to have at least three structured teams in place.”
The goal next year is to have 75-100 skaters in the program.
“We’ll get there,” Briggs-Blake said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.