Embracing Diversity and Accountability |
“Being able to play with all of my teammates and having fun playing something you love.”
Mohamud Ahmedad was introduced to skating during a first-grade field trip.
“It was really fun,” said Mohamud, who’s now a sophomore forward for St. Paul Johnson High School. “Even though I was falling down a lot, I really liked the feeling of being on the ice.”
So his parents signed him up for a Try Hockey for Free event, and he was hooked.
“They thought I was having a fun experience and they wanted me to keep going with it, so they got me into an association,” he said.
That would be the Johnson Como North St. Paul Hockey Association, where Mohamud learned and developed into the varsity player he is today for the storied Governors high school program. Ahmedad’s parents came to Minnesota from Somalia before Mohamud was born. Three of Mohamud’s younger brothers are now following his footsteps in the Johnson Como North St. Paul youth program.
Diversity = Opportunity
St. Paul’s East Side has grown more diverse since the 1970s, when Steve “Moose” Younghans, longtime Governors coach and St. Paul East Sider first started coaching youth hockey. He views that as an opportunity, not a challenge for his community.
“We work very hard on recruiting all the kids in the neighborhood to try hockey,” Younghans said. “It doesn’t make a difference to us. Hopefully we can get them started, and I feel we’ve had pretty good luck with that over the years. We have black, Latino – we have a little bit of everything going on. They’re all family.”
That includes the Ahmedads, some of his program’s most enthusiastic supporters.
“They are just an incredibly cool family,” Younghans said. “They were in the neighborhood and we offered our Mites program. Mohamud started playing in Mites, he’s carried it through, and his whole family comes to all of his games. They love it and we love having them. They are a part of our family and a part of our community. They come to all the events and all the fundraisers and everything. They are wonderful people.”
Ask Mohamud if the joy of being a part of the Governors family is mutual, and he makes leaves little doubt about the place the game and the program have in his heart.
“Just the feeling of the game and being on the ice,” said Mohamud, who also plays football for St. Paul Johnson. “Being able to play with all of my teammates and having fun playing something you love.”
Despite his love for the game, it hasn’t been all sunshine and fairy tales for Mohamud as his ethnicity has occasionally made him the target of abusive language on the ice.
“They’ll try to get me down or whatever,” he said. “But I’ve been pretty good at just keeping my temper and letting those kinds of comments go.
“A few weeks ago, a kid said something to me. One of my teammates heard it, and the next thing you know, immediately came to my defense. So I feel like my teammates are really there for me, you know?”
Younghans says we cannot turn a blind eye to this type of behavior.
“It’s not acceptable,” Younghans said. “And the same goes for disrespecting anybody. That’s what we preach to our guys. Respect everybody, no matter who they are. It doesn’t matter if it’s the bus driver, the cafeteria worker, somebody at a restaurant, whoever it is. We teach respect with our guys – and we enforce it.”
Overall, hockey has been a welcoming place for Mohamud, but incidents like these do occur. It’s important to recognize that, be proactive in cultivating an inclusive culture and be prepared to address any situations that do arise.
“It’s accountability,” Younghans said. “If more people held their kids and their teams accountable for what they do and what they say, I think things would be better off in life.
“Our kids are not allowed to talk that way. Our kids go to school every day with kids from diverse backgrounds. They’re not allowed to carry themselves that way, so I think they look out for each other. I think that’s what happens when you have a good team setting.”
It is up to everyone – parents, coaches, administrators, officials and spectators – to keep working toward an all-inclusive environment.
USA Hockey and Minnesota Hockey have a zero tolerance policy for abuse and misconduct of any kind, and are currently working on a diversity program. Through the USA Hockey SafeSport Program, USA Hockey and Minnesota Hockey are committed to creating the safest possible environment for participation in hockey.