When you consider Black history month and youth hockey William McCant’s name has to be mentioned in the Detroit area.
As the President and member of The Detroit Hockey Association for 22 years no other person can be more connected with building the platform that supports urban youth hockey.
McCant started working with African American kids and getting them on skates decades ago and consistently fought past the frustrations of dealing with a city that was almost broke and the cynicism of many contributors whom were needed for financial support, not to mention the racism and bias suffered by his players on the ice.
Years ago McCant said "The Detroit Hockey Association is proud to be at the forefront of efforts to grow hockey in Michigan and around the country," He added "We have a long history of providing inner city kids opportunities to play the game of hockey at an affordable price. The association's mission, 'Where goals are achieved, not just scored' is the message we instill in our players."
At the height of the organizations success with the annual Hockey in the Hood tournament he said "It's a lot of work getting everything organized. There is no doubt about that. However, it has really become the kind of event that you know is making a positive difference in the lives of the young people who participate in it. So even though there is a lot of effort in making sure the tournament goes as planned, it makes it all worth it when you can see how much the kids enjoy everything."
At its best the DHA produced 500 plus youth hockey players in the Detroit area and also sent several graduates to AAA levels,college as well as coaching positions.
“Sixty eight percent of the 500 participants went to college and that is one of our proudest accomplishments” said McCant.
As President McCant was an enthusiastic supporter of the program and tirelessly pounded the pavement attracting financial commitments from groups like the Detroit Redwings, Little Caesars, Comcast, AT&T and the National Hockey League. He also solicited donors for equipment, skates and hockey sticks and tirelessly organized fund raisers.
Although he committed 22 years of his heart and soul to involving nontraditional youth in the game of hockey his departure was alarmingly quiet.
“At the end I left because of personal issues involving my son and frustrations with the organization. It was time for some new blood.”
McCant described how urban youth regularly experienced different problems than suburban kids. “We dealt with kids who did not have access to three square meals a day, kids who waited till midnight after practice or games for their parents to pick them up and we even had to bail a few kids out of jail.”
"But when they got out on the ice it was a joy to watch them skate. It seemed to free them from other problems." he said.
Some of our kids graduated to local AAA elite teams like Honeybaked, Little Caesars, and Belle Tire magnifying the skills of some of inner city kids in DHA program.
Racism was very evident in some games.
Referees can affect games and often did. McCant recalls one district finals game where the team got five misconducts. “Our kids killed penalties all game and we finally got tired losing 4-2.
One player who could have gone far in the game was James Ross who now plays football for the University of Michigan.
“Ross was a tremendous player and bone jarring hitter who had great athleticism and instinct, but his father recognized the impediments he faced in getting a scholarship or advancing based on his ability. He opted out of hockey to a sport where blacks were more accepted” McCant said.
In fighting and voter issues sadly contributed to the demise of the DHA - a stable in the Detroit urban community for nearly 30 years.
The DHA focused on building the character of metro Detroit youth. Its motto was, “Where goals are achieved, not just scored” guided the association.
When it comes to helping students achieve life goals, the program has been a great success. The numbers say it all.
According to USA Today the 2006 the graduation rate in Detroit public schools was worst in the United States at only 21.7%. In stark contrast, all 500 Detroit Hockey Association players graduated from high school and a number went on to College.
William McCant and his wife (a pastor) moved to Muskegon, Michigan where he is currently not involved in youth hockey.
Further illuminating his long frustration McCant also said “I don’t want my grandson to play hockey. I don't want him to experience the frustration and hardship.”
Such a harsh statement is sad and reflective of what laboring in Detroit fighting the good fight for the DHA has done to McCant.
“I believe that one day stereotypes will disappear and African American and Latino kids will be accepted. It will take a lot of work and Caucasian coaches must consider the huge amount of talent that is available in urban areas.
The NHL Diversity Task Force (Hockey is for Every one) and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) have come up with a program to provide college scholarship opportunities to talented minority players.
William McCant did more than his part to help make that happen and maybe sometime soon we will hear about a new youth program starting in Muskegon and a youth hockey director looking for equipment donations and kids to play the fastest sport on earth.
Thanks for your effort Mr. McCant.