The bright colors representing the Hispanic diaspora illuminated across the ice at the Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo, California. Meanwhile, jovial laughter erupted from the ice, bringing smiles to the faces of coaches and parents alike on September 17.
There’s no other place that 24 Degrees of Color founder Kendal Troutman would rather be, celebrating the Hispanic heritage of the many athletes of her program. Flags representing Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama, and El Salvador danced through the air, in time with the mariachi band weaving through the halls. The smiling faces of her athletes sends home a strong message that the work she does is paramount to helping grow the game in the Los Angeles community.
To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, 24 Degrees of Color hosted a Hispanic Heritage Celebration, complete with traditional music, cultural dress and food. Having big plans for the day, Troutman could have never imagined the unforgettable turnout.
“If I could sum it up in one word, I just felt overwhelmed.” Troutman recalled. “I kept telling everybody I felt overwhelmed. I was very emotional.”
Over 80 athletes and their parents attended the event, packing meeting rooms and filling the ice. It is the latest culmination of many long, hard days of work for Troutman and 24 Degrees of Color.
The 24 Degrees of Color program was founded in 2021, an umbrella program of the ThruGUIDANCE Ministries organization that introduces young people in underserved communities to ice sports. Troutman was compelled to start the program when she felt dismissed while trying to register her daughter for ice sports.
As she began to lay the groundwork for the program, the Los Angeles Kings reached out to her, excited to partner with their “We Are All Kings” program in advancing their DEI efforts. After holding her first Learn to Skate program in 2021 with only eight young skaters, Troutman was worried about finding unique ways to market the sport of hockey to minorities in the community.
“I started with eight kids in the first Learn To Skate session and Learn To Play session,” Troutman said. “The next Learn To Play session, I had 32. The next, I had 100.”
Lucky for her, the program took off like wildfire. There were so many young kids interested in the program that she had to create a waitlist.
“By the third program we held in 2021, I had 50 kids waitlisted. At this point we've seen about 425 kids come through our program.”
Troutman credits the program’s growth and retention to a strong concentration on communication and taking a community-based approach to acclimating new parents to hockey.
“We are very communal. When parents register with us, we have a parent orientation,” Troutman explained. “One of the biggest areas of opportunity, with ice sports in the rinks that I've been in, is that there's not a great onboarding process. You go on to these websites trying to figure it out, and unless you were born and raised in ice sports or know someone, it's just hard to understand it all.”
24 Degrees of Color meets with parents to try and bridge that gap in knowledge, holding meetings that explain small things like how to wash and sanitize hockey gear to educating the parents on the different pathways their child can explore playing youth hockey. She recalls a time when her young daughter began skating at her local rink, and how it took a skating coach two months to inform her that the skates she bought for her daughter were too big and could potentially cause injury. Using her experience as an example, Troutman aims to replicate the experience she wishes she had early on when she was a new parent exploring ice sports for the first time.
“Because the community aspect is so core to our program, it breeds a larger community, right?” Troutman said. “So right now, we have about 120 kids on our waitlist.”
For many young athletes, seeing someone who looks like them can make them feel seen in ways words cannot express. Troutman holds this sentiment dear and makes it a point to introduce newer skaters to those who have become veterans in her program, allowing for the newer skaters to have a friend and a familiar face on the ice. A familiar face can go a long way for someone relatively new to hockey, especially as 95% of 24 Degrees of Color skaters are first timers.
“With my parents, I make sure they know each other,” Troutman said. “I make sure that they know who they're on the ice with. Then, you know, now when you go to these rinks, they're very diverse.”
Making a surprise appearance at the celebration, former player Al Montoya eagerly told his hockey story to the attendees, his love and pride for his country of Cuba tangible and heavy as he orated.
“The biggest thing for me with these kids is that I hope that by meeting Al, they find a role model in him,” Troutman said. “I know that they resonated with this story because they said it afterwards. A lot of the parents were just like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have similar stories.’
“I hope they take away that ice hockey is inclusive to all, including them. No matter their socioeconomic status, they know that this sport is theirs, too.”
The community Troutman has built at the rink has permeated throughout her skater’s lives in ways seen and unseen. In southern California, sports like football and soccer reign king. The community of Los Angeles thrives on these sports, proudly wearing the colors of their college or professional team with pride. Troutman has observed the culture of the families that participate in the program has begun to shift as the program has grown and evolved.
“I do get a lot of emails and text messages from families about how hockey has impacted their family, their lives, their kids academically, socially from a behavioral perspective and culturally,” Troutman explained. “So many families are full on hockey families now and they are buying tickets. They're going to games, and they’re going the distance with the sport.”
Troutman recalls a time she held a block party to celebrate the end of the season for her athletes. Bounce houses, arts and crafts stations and a water balloon area were present, but her athletes only had one goal in mind – finding hockey sticks to play a street hockey game.
“It’s those moments, right?” Troutman reminisced. “It's like, okay, this makes it all worth it for me. Like growing the program and developing the program, that makes it all worth it.”
Troutman hopes the lessons her athletes gained from the experience stick with them long after they leave the ice.
“I hope that they begin to really accept and believe that they belong in this space,” Troutman said. “We say it all the time, ‘We belong here.’ But to see us take over the center, things like mariachi walking up the stairs, through the corridors. People are coming out of the other rinks like, what is happening? Who are you guys? I'm like, We're here.”
Hispanic Heritage Month takes place Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 every year as a time to recognize and celebrate the many contributions, diverse cultures, and extensive histories of the American Latino community. To learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month visit, https://www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov/