Original story posted on March 30, 2023.
The success of a community sport program is often hard to judge from a distance. Do you measure attendees, revenue, skills learned, laughs heard? According to Halley Chopra, program coordinator for Nepean Nighthawks’ Stick Together program, the true measure of success will be retainment, longevity and whether the kids give back in the future.
Initially, however, Chopra, who is also the President of Nepean Nighthawks FHC, is overjoyed with their work offering barrier-free hockey to Indigenous youth.
The Nepean Nighthawks are extending their barrier-free programming into the summer months of 2023. CBC Radio reported a story about the program. LISTEN TO THE CBC REPORT HERE.
The Stick Together program started in January and offered free Saturday beginner indoor hockey programs to Indigenous youth. The registrants joined the existing beginner workshops every Saturday for hockey instruction, culminating in tournament in March.
The program included easy registration, free transportation, and equipment for the sessions. According to Chopra, program coordinator, the goal was to reduce barriers as much as possible. And with that, she feels like they reached a community in need of access to sport.
“The feedback from the parents and community was so great. I heard from parents that said their kids would never have had the chance to participate in this, let alone even had access to running shoes,” Chopra said. “So that was an indication to me that programs like this are needed.”
The Stick Together participants joined Nepean Nighthawks beginner indoor sessions every Saturday from January to March. Photos/Provided.
The culmination of the program was a tournament called the Frosty Cup, an annual mixer tournament that is open to all skill levels and ages in the club. Chopra said this was an exciting event and a chance for the participants to see different levels of hockey.
“Our club works best when it is a tight-knit community, as opposed to groups operating in silos. We like to have club events so everyone can see how they fit into the community,” she said. “For the Frosty Cup, we ask all the teams to all come together and mix in. We have a skills competition and scrimmages. It’s especially good for the beginners getting to see the more experienced people passing and playing. It’s a really good way to integrate the [Stick Together participants] into the wider group.”
Chopra said that the integration with the other beginners and with the club as a whole is a critical piece to making everyone feel welcomed and included in sport.
“When the kids join this program and learn field hockey, they are a Nighthawk,” she said. “The Stick Together Program is a gateway to get registered, barrier-free, it gets them in the door, then they have the opportunity to continue.”
Chopra and her family have been long standing members of the sport and hockey community in the Ottawa area. As far back as she can remember, her parents have been involved in the administrative side of the game. That familial connection to sport organization has led Chopra down this route to supporting community sport programming.
The Chopra family along with the Nepean Nighthawks club is spearheading the creation of a new field hockey facility in the Ottawa area, called the Field Hockey Centre. According to Chopra, with that creation comes more field access and even more opportunity for Indigenous youth, newcomers to Canada and other in-need communities to access sport.
“In order to keep this program going and to grow it, we’ll need a flow of money. We understand government funding comes and goes, so we are going to work hard to find other partners to make sure we can continue to offer programs like this,” she said. “We have partnered with a local tech company that has committed to helping with this program. It’s an example of reaching out to community partners to keep that flow going.”
Chopra and the Nighthawk club felt that the initial pilot of the Stick Together program was a success. Several of the attendees have already registered for the summer leagues and Chopra said they will really know for sure when those kids are old enough to start coaching in the community. For now, they are looking forward to continuing to offer accessible programming to underserved communities in the Ottawa area.
The Stick Together grant supports the creation or continuing progress of projects that specifically target these equity-deserving groups. Any one project can receive up to a maximum of $15,000 (depending on the total number of final applicants) to a total amount of $65,000 will be disbursed in year one of Stick Together.
In the fall of 2022, Field Hockey Canada, in conjunction with Canada Sport for All (CSAI), launched the Stick Together initiative. The Stick Together project seeks to remove barriers and increase sport participation rates for underrepresented groups in field hockey. Equity-deserving groups include Indigenous peoples, People of Colour, 2SLGBTQQIA+, people with low income and newcomers. The purpose of Stick Together is simple: to increase participation and retention in field hockey.