October 3, 2022

William Douglas has written The Color of Hockey blog since 2012. Douglas joined NHL.com in 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, she profiles Black Hockey Mommies, a support network for black mothers whose sons and daughters play the sport.

Black Hockey Mommies started as a club of two.

Rochelle Popyon and April Scott are two hockey moms in Northern California who continued to meet at their sons’ games and tournaments, often being the only black parents in the stands.

They created it Black Hockey Mommies Facebook page on January 21, 2019 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — as a space where mothers could celebrate and commiserate about the triumphs and challenges of having a son or daughter who plays in a predominantly white sport.

“When we started, it was just her and me,” Scott said. “Every time I’d go to a tournament and see another Black family, I’d say, ‘Hey, you on Facebook?’ Come to our team””.

Popyon and Scott said they were happy when the membership reached 25 and were surprised as the numbers continued to grow.

“It was word of mouth and then we got up to 100 people,” Scott said. “Then it was, like, ‘Wow, wait a minute.’

Today, Black Hockey Mommies is 185 members, a support network of women who share the positive and negative experiences their children face on the ice or in the locker room and exchange hockey tips and advice on and off the ice.

“I don’t see a lot of black hockey moms, we’re few and far between,” said Meredith Lang, a member of Black Hockey Mommies and co-founded Minnesota Unbounded, a hockey program for girls of color;. “To have a community that has continued to grow and try to navigate the hockey system and what that brings, whether it’s racism in hockey or whether it’s learning what the best gear is. We can come to this team from A to Z and they feel supported.”

And it’s a team where black hockey moms dream and work to make them come true. Poppion and Scott had long discussed the idea of ​​forming an all-black team to compete in an elite tournament.

“On the Facebook group, we just put the question out there, ‘We have an 18U tournament, we’ve created a tournament team, who’s in?’ Popyon said.

Based on the response, Popyon and Scott entered a team at the Minnesota Showcase Hockey Summer Showdown in Richfield, Minnesota, in June.

The roster slowly came together, starting with Popyon and Scott’s 16-year-old sons, defenseman Gibran Popyon II and forward Leon Garrett III. The moms recruited 15 other players from eight states from California to New York to compete in the tournament. The Panthers were born.

Poppion and Scott even recruited an all-black coaching staff led by Mike Weekley, a high school and youth hockey coach in the Los Angeles area. Anthony Walsh, who was a forward on the Edina High School hockey team that won the Minnesota Class 2A championship in 2013, and Gibran Poppion Sr. were his assistants.

“For them to come together and maintain a support system that was meant to do positive things for their kids and have that show in the idea of ​​’Let’s get a group of young brothers together and get a coach,’ that’s not easy.” Weekley said. “There are a lot of black men playing hockey, but to find them, to have them age-appropriate, to match the skills, and then to find the coaching staff to do it? That says a lot about these mothers and how deeply connected they are. “

They had a key Minnesota connection in Lang, who was a finalist for the 2022 Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award.

He helped book ice time for the Panthers, connected them with a jersey manufacturer and helped arrange a tour of the Minnesota Wild’s facility.

“For them to be able to grab players from all over the country and bring them to Minnesota for the tournament, I just wanted it to be something they could never forget,” Lang said.

The Panthers went 1-2-1 in the tournament. But the players and coaches emerged victorious from the valuable bonding experience.

“From the first day we got there, you’d think these guys had known each other for years,” Scott said. “They just bonded. It was awesome.”

After fielding their first tournament team, Popyon and Scott said the Black Hockey Moms are already planning to do it again.

“We want to grow the Black Hockey Mommies team and also grow the Panthers,” Popyon said. “If we can get more tournament teams out there in the future, it might not be in the near future, and we will certainly have more divisions for the Panther team, I know all levels will benefit from an experience like we had in Minnesota.”

Photos: Cyndi Nightengale Photography

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