Closing Harrison Rink is a shameful injustice

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What’s the Park Board thinking when we already have too many idle youth?

The closing of Harrison Park Rink is a shameful injustice to North Minneapolis children, youth, and families and the agency which I represent. For 21 years we provided hockey and figure skating to residents of the Harrison neighborhood at an affordable price. In addition, we collected, sharpened and provided skates for recreational skating.

The rink was well used. If anyone doubts that assertion, just do the math — two Park Board teams times six games plus 24 practices times 15 players. That’s just for the hockey teams. Recreational skaters used it equally or more.

Truth to tell, it is a shame that any outdoor rinks have to be closed at this point. They are simply too few and far between to make them realistically accessible to most city children. Without the outdoor rinks, there is no hockey or figure skating option for low-income children.

During the high school hockey tournament last year, announcer Lou Nanne quipped, “Minneapolis and St. Paul used to field some fine teams in the tournament. Do they still play hockey there? I’m sure they do. They must!”

Years ago, Coach Dick McChesney from Bryant Park said, “You have to keep this outdoor hockey alive. If you don’t, you will see hockey disappear in the city.” He was right. As the access to outdoor rinks dwindles, there is less and less affordable access to the great sports of hockey and figure skating.

When you watch North Minneapolis resident Rohene Ward compete in the national figure skating championships this fall, Desiree Brown play goalie for St. Margaret’s, or North Minneapolis pediatrician Chris Williams compete at the national seniors level, ask yourself where the next generation of inner city skaters will get their start. Rohene started at Farview Park (closed now for 15 years), and Chris started at Harrison.

In 1985, Chris came home from college to attend medical school at the University of Minnesota. He and I attended the same Lutheran church in the Northside housing projects. Harrison Park had just been closed for the first time, and there were no teams on the lower North Side.

“What’s happened to hockey in North Minneapolis?” Chris asked. “I don’t know, but I bet we can do something about it,” I answered. Out of that conversation came the North Minneapolis Hockey and Figure Skating Program.

We worked with the Minneapolis Parks and the Henry Youth Hockey Association. The Henry Association was folded into the Edison Association in 1998. The Edison Association all but collapsed in 2006 and sold its rink to the Park Board.

Hundreds of children were given the opportunity to play hockey at all age and skill levels through these programs. Hundreds more received figure skating lessons. Rohene was an offshoot of the program. Now what will happen?

I think there’s this misperception that minority people do not play hockey or figure skate. Our participation is over 60 percent minority. That reflects the composition of the neighborhoods we serve.

Rohene and Desiree are African American. So is Booker Hodges (former gubernatorial candidate) and Titus Stromen (skating double for the star of Mighty Ducks).

I just cannot understand what the Park Board is thinking by closing two North Minneapolis rinks at a time when idle youth are a huge community problem. That’s all I have time to comment on this — it’s ice time.

Dale Hulme is president of New Directions Youth Ministry and pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church.

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