Inside the Ben Boeke Arena in Anchorage, Alaska, four girls' hockey teams were supposed to be playing their last funded games of the season. Instead, they got a surprise that changed the course of their programs — and their lives — forever.
Not long before, in 2013, the Anchorage School District had cancelled funding for girls' hockey. NHL star Scott Gomez stepped in and managed to keep the program alive through 2015 with a sizable donation from his charitable foundation.
But that money was evaporating fast.
"We tried our best, and we figured we wouldn't be able to support it any longer," Carlos Gomez, founder of the Scotty Gomez Foundation, told Fortune.
While the men's hockey teams in the area weren't facing similar cuts, the girls — many of whom had potential college scholarships for hockey — feared their chances to play were about to disappear. Coaches and members of the Scotty Gomez Foundation admitted that funding for the girls' teams was so limited that players had been wearing the same jerseys for four years. After the current season, they would not have the funding needed to keep the girls' program alive
"I just feel like nobody really cares about girls' hockey as much," one of the players said.
But then Gomez and Anchorage hockey got a major assist from The DICK'S Sporting Goods Foundation.
The DICK'S Foundation laid down a $200,000 donation that will keep the program and the four teams afloat through 2018. The donation additionally covers each player's annual "pay to play" fees, so the girls are able to play free of charge. The sporting goods retailer also provided new equipment, new jerseys and a new sense of purpose for dozens of young women who just wanted to keep playing the game they loved.
"I thought this was going to be my last year for girl's hockey," one player said in a DICK'S video online, holding back tears. "I'm so thankful for you guys and for what you are doing. Words just can't explain how happy I am."
That $200,000 is part of more than 25 million dollars that DICK'S has committed to raise awareness and support underfunded youth athletic programs all over the country. Through their Sports Matter program, DICK'S is helping alleviate the financial burden that has overcome so many public schools' athletics programs.
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