Including an interview with outgoing Detroit Hockey Association President Will McCants
Willie O’Ree, with members of the Detroit Dragons, after they won the Willie O’Ree Cup.
Take Lyndon East from Greenfield in northwest Detroit and you’ll go through a neighborhood of detached bungalows and then random industrial parks and warehouses. It’s a quiet, non-distinct stretch of road in an often eerily quiet city. To your left will emerge, after the cemetery, a long, low, grey building. You might notice it, what with the large parking lot out front, or you might not. But if it’s hockey season, there’s a good chance that inside Jack Adams Arena there’s a game on, there’s players winding down from the last game and there’s players getting ready for the next. Unless it’s Sunday or Monday, when the rink is closed due to budget cuts, or in the early fall and late spring, when the rink is closed due to budget cuts.
Jack Adams Arena
This being Hockeytown and Michigan, nothing surprising about an ice rink. What makes Jack Adams remarkable is that it is one of only a few indoor rinks in Detroit proper, and it’s the only one that draws mainly from the city itself. Detroit is an 85% Black city and Jack Adams and The Detroit Hockey Association (or DHA, which runs the rink’s hockey programming) have been increasingly drawing from Detroit’s Latino community, in large part through cooperation with Southwest Detroit’s Clark Park, which includes an outdoor rink. As a result, DHA ices teams that are, let’s say, less White than you might expect. And you would expect that with good reason, because hockey is still a White-dominated sport.
Not that race really mattered within the confines of Jack Adams. I know from experience, because I, a white male, played something like eight seasons at Jack Adams. Later, I coached part of a season, and before I ever played, I watched my older brother play there. When we were on the ice together, we might have been aware that our racial makeup was somewhat unique, but it never really mattered within the team. When it did matter was when we left the city to play suburban teams, or when those teams came to our lonely stretch of Lyndon to play us. Even then, it didn’t usually matter all that much; we were just like any other team. But there were moments when it mattered intensely. To pick just one example, my final game was an intense playoff elimination game against Dearborn, the suburb founded by Henry Ford in large part so he could escape the city (thus helping set the segregating pace that would define the Detroit area). A fight broke out after the game. Whatever, fights happen after games, and I’m not sure race had anything to do with that. But the fact that the Dearborn police were on hand, just in case the game with all those Detroiters in attendance got out of control, just might have had something to do with race. Two of our players, one in the stands because of a previous suspension and one in uniform, were arrested. Both were Black.
I don’t want to make too big a deal out of that. I mention it only to illustrate the tension our games were capable of causing (to be fair, our team was not always the innocent party, we often gave into the tension ourselves). Despite all that, by icing a diverse team in a non-diverse sport and in a highly segregated metro area, DHA has done a whole lot to bridge the gaps between White and Black. But in doing so it has also revealed the racial gap that exists in both the Detroit metro area and in hockey. That gap is hardly flattering, as was blatantly obvious in the racism recently levelled at the Washington Capital’s Joel Ward.
The twitter-based vitriol aimed at Ward had me thinking about Jack Adams, so I called up an old coach of mine: Will McCants, AKA Coach Will, the outgoing president of DHA and a long time Jack Adams regular and corner stone. DHA works because of people like Coach Will–that includes parents, managers, coaches, etc.–who volunteer their time and effort to make hockey a possibility for kids who otherwise wouldn’t even think of playing hockey, but whose lives are often profoundly altered by the opportunity to do so. Sadly, there cannot be enough Coach Will’s in the world to run a hockey rink if the rink is shut down, which has been a looming possibility at Jack Adams for as long as Detroit has been in its current crisis. Here’s hoping something comes through to ensure the long-term existence of Jack Adams Arena and the Detroit Hockey Association.
My interview with Coach Will follows the jump, but if you want a better idea of what Jack Adams is all about, I suggest you watch the video below. Its story is two decades old, but it gets to the core of this unique hockey organization. Read more of this post