Next Black generation takes on winter sports

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Skiing and hockey, unlike basketball, are two wintertime sports that historically have not attracted many Blacks. This hasn’t stopped several local youngsters from being successful participants, however. 


Seventeen-year-old C.J. Savage, a Southwest High School senior, is competing this week in the Minnesota High School alpine skiing state finals – he is among the top 10 in his event. C.J.’s two sisters, 14-year-old Andrea and 11-year-old Mackenna, also ski competitively.


All admit that there are not a lot of kids on the slopes that look like them.


“When you are loaded up in armor, with the helmet and goggles, it is hard to tell” their ethnicity, notes their father, Daryl Savage. “You have to take everything off at the finish line for people to know [who you are].”


C.J. said that he first got involved in skiing when his third-grade class went on a ski trip. “At the end of the day, I was crying because it was so hard,” he recalls. “But I kept doing it.” He later joined a weekend ski program, then joined the Minneapolis Alpine Ski Team (MAST) as an eighth grader, and has never looked back.


“I started ski racing as a sixth grader,” says Andrea, who joined MAST as a seventh grader and is on a team made up of students from South, Southwest and Washburn. “I just really love skiing. I really like…the noise of the gates being hit as people go down the hill.”


“I race against people who are [ages] 9-12, and I am one of the oldest,” says Mackenna. “I just love that you go so fast. It feels like you are flying.”


“I go to these races and I am the only person of color I see the entire day,” adds their father.


C.J. Savage says that being the only, or one of the few, Blacks “never really did bother me. One of the contributing factors might have been that I wasn’t significantly worse at the sport [than] other people I skied with. I was at the same level, and that made it a non-issue for me.” He says there are three other persons of color he knows who compete in alpine skiing.


“I think I am real special to get to do this,” says Mackenna of being the only Black female skier in her age group.


“I only know of one other [Black] girl,” adds Andrea. “She’s on a team that trains where we train. I run into her, and we’re pretty close.”


Hockey, too, is attracting more young African Americans. When he was little, Kendall Bolen-Porter included in his nightly prayers that he wanted to be “the best hockey player in the world,” his mother, Marilyn Porter, recalls. Her son first started skating at age four.


Young Bolen-Porter is now a freshman hockey player on the Saints varsity hockey team. He attends St. Bernard’s High School in St. Paul. “Since we live in Minnesota, and we have the cold and ice, it was me wanting him to get involved in something other than traditional sports, basketball and baseball,” Marilyn points out.


“My dad wanted me to try new stuff and be different from everybody else,” says Kendall. “He got me into hockey…and I love it. I like the competitive nature of it, and the camaraderie.”


Almost from the start, Kendall has been the only Black on the hockey rink. He admits that it was uncomfortable at first, but adds, “After people got to know me, and welcomed me, it was like being part of the family.”


According to Marilyn Porter, she has seen only a couple of other Blacks playing hockey. “There was another young man on the [opposing] team [who was Black]” at a recent game last week. The two players of color “were going after the puck at the same time. It was very unique to see both of them standing together.” She saw one other Black player at another game this season.


Both skiing and hockey are expensive sports. “I think that is one of the reasons why you don’t see a lot of people of color, specifically African Americans, because of the cost,” explains Marilyn. “Because Kendall really likes the sport, [she and her husband, Roderic Bolen] really have sacrificed.


“The fees are expensive… Even before he got into high school, it was upwards of $900 per year. That doesn’t include all the equipment; the hockey sticks that Kendall plays with are a good $120, and you break them quite often.”


“It can get pricey,” admits Daryl Savage of his kids’ skiing. He says his annual cost is “well into the four digits,” which includes such equipment as skis and ski boots. They may last “two years max,” he explains, “and in many cases just one [year] the way my kids go through it. C.J. is so powerful and hard on his skis [that] in some seasons he had to change his equipment two or three times in a year.”


Nonetheless, he and his wife Karen fully support their children’s ski efforts.


“We have had plenty of days where the real temperature is well below zero, and we are out there gate judging or timing or doing whatever to help out, in addition to just watching them.”


C.J. will continue skiing next year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he will study engineering. Andrea and Mackenna both aspire to compete in high school, preferably at Southwest. Kendall hopes to play college hockey one day as well.


All strongly recommend that other Blacks try skiing and hockey.


“Even though there are not a lot of African Americans, you can be a leader and have fun in the sport,” says Bolen-Porter.


“It is just a thrill to ski race,” says Mackenna.


“I am hoping to ski for as long as I can,” adds Andrea.


Marilyn Porter also suggests that fellow Black parents not let expenses be a deterrent. “I think that rather than [allowing] the cost to keep [them] from playing, let your kid try it. I think that rather than not involve your kid, find out more about it and what kinds of things can be done that would allow your kid to play.”


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.