Brotherly Love

Ed Snider’s Vision Continues To Give Philadelphia Kids A Chance To Fly High

Virlen Reyes was an overwhelmed 23-year-old far from her North Philadelphia home when panic set in. 

Working in a field in which she had little experience, she was in desperate need of reassurance, so she reached out to the one man she could count on to provide sage grandfatherly advice. That person was Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider.

"I remember frantically calling him to ask what I should do," recalled Reyes, who grew up participating in the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation and is still involved to this day.

"He said, 'Virlen, you have an amazing story. You, as much as all the other kids in [Snider Hockey], have a lot to offer. You guys are amazing and brilliant. Don't ever be bashful about sharing your story.'"

The willingness of one of the most influential people in hockey to make himself available to help someone in need is one of many examples of the type of person Ed Snider was, and why the foundation that bears the name of the late Flyers owner is one of the most impactful philanthropic organizations in all of professional sports.

Executing A Vision

Back in 2005, Snider was wrestling with a vision of how to address the high school dropout situation in Philadelphia, which current foundation President and CEO Scott Tharp described as "of epidemic proportions."

That's when he used his connections and influence in the community to create a foundation with the goal of providing inner-city kids the opportunity to not only learn how to play hockey, but also become better students and people.   

"In the early years, we focused on adding supplemental educational services to our hockey experience that would help keep our kids on track for on-time graduation," Tharp recalled. 

Using hockey as a hook to attract kids, participation numbers and expectations for the foundation's potential began to grow. 

"Over the years, we've collected data that supports the fact that 99 percent of our kids graduate from high school on time," Tharp said. "Then, we realized that in today's society a high school diploma is not enough, and we started to set our sights even higher and have now partnered with colleges and universities."

This partnership with select universities around the state of Pennsylvania is one of the biggest attractions the foundation has to offer, as high schoolers in the program have the chance to attend one of these state schools on a full scholarship, a luxury they likely wouldn't have otherwise.

"We are able to tell our students as they enter the ninth grade that if they stay with us through high school graduation and make good enough grades to gain admission to one of our partnered colleges/universities, we're going to provide them with full four-year scholarships," Tharp said.

This past October, it was announced that 25 participants in the foundation would receive full rides to Kutztown University, a resounding example of what's possible when someone is willing to lend a helping hand.

Team Effort

Any time a foundation is involved with a professional sports team, contributions of the athletes on the team are a vital part of the community outreach. Fortunately for Snider Hockey, there is no shortage of support among its current and former players.

Shortly after joining the team in 2011, Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds heard about the work his boss did in the community. These days, you can find his name on the foundation's board of directors.

"They have a long line of players who stood on the board, from Danny Briere to Scott Hartnell," the 29-year-old winger said. "Once those guys left, I was asked to do it and I gladly jumped on board."

In Briere's case, he remains involved in the foundation three years after retiring as a player.

"Just reading about the progress that it's made has really pushed me to stay involved," he said. "Then a few years ago, they asked me to join them on the board of directors. I believe so much in this foundation that I decided to join."

 

Rink Rescue

One February morning in 2008, Snider walked into the Scanlon Ice Rink in the Philadelphia suburb of Kensington to check in on the work his foundation was doing. To his surprise, the rink was packed with families talking and cheering in Spanish.  They soon gathered around to thank him for all he had done for the community. 

After hearing that three area rinks were set to close, including Scanlon, Snider launched a partnership with the City Parks and Recreation Department that resulted in full renovations that would allow the rinks to remain fully operational on a year-round basis. 

In the Winter 2009 issue of "Goals & Assists," the official newsletter of the ESYHF, Snider acknowledged the importance of the partnership was more than just what happens out on the ice.

"If the end product of this partnership is that boys and girls go on to play for competitive club, scholastic or even collegiate hockey teams, that would be great," he said. 

"But more significant are the thousands of young people who will learn the importance of staying in school, staying out of trouble with the law, and the need to give back to their communities."

 

Hockey As A Hook

Monica Jones first heard about Snider Hockey six years ago while attending her nephew's game at the Simons Recreation Center in Philadelphia. She knew little about the foundation and even less about hockey. After talking with the staff, she signed up her son, JJ, who was struggling with behavioral issues. Those issues are now a thing of the past.

"[JJ] did not communicate well or play well with children his own age. They talked to him about his behavior consistently," she recalled. "But he loved the hockey and quickly learned that if he misbehaved [at home] or in school, he would not be able to come to practice. They worked on him about good behaviors and they've just been great."

JJ echoed his mother's thoughts.

"I started playing because I was upset and acting up a little bit in school," he said. "The coaches here help me and tutor me. That's what Snider Hockey provides for us.  It's just really nice to know that they care about us so much."

His is just one of a number of success stories that have risen up from the streets of Philadelphia thanks to the foundation.

"It feels like this program is a support to our family, especially with school and setting goals. Once I share with the team what the goal is, they're right there with us," Monica Jones said. "You know how it says 'it takes a village?' This is our village. It really is."

 

A Lifetime Of Achievements

Ask anybody who has worked with or spent time around Snider Hockey, and their responses regarding the type of person their leader was is universal.

Ed Snider wasn't a typical owner who hid in the shadows and only concerned himself with the performance of his NHL team. He was someone who took the time to get to know those who were a part of what he wanted to be his legacy.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who has held up Snider Hockey as a gold standard, knew that this is what Snider wanted to be remembered for, even more than his team's back-to-back Stanley Cups in the mid 1970s.

"Ed was enormously proud of the Snider Youth Hockey Foundation," Bettman said. "He told me on a number of occasions that starting Snider Hockey may have been the best thing he ever had done-in a lifetime of achievements."

For all his efforts supporting hockey on so many levels, the charismatic owner was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.

 

A Team Player

Gil Schaffer, who interned with the foundation in 2011 and is now a full-time staff member, remembers his first interaction with Snider while working an informational table at a Flyers game.

"All of a sudden I look down the hallway and see Mr. Snider walking," Schaffer recalled. "We were off to the side when he saw us. He broke away from the people he was with, and walked directly to our table." 

After introductions were made, Schaffer still recalls the last thing Snider said before walking away.

"He said 'thank you so much for doing what you do. I really appreciate you,'" Schaffer said. "It was so powerful for me, the fact that he would walk over to an intern and personally take the time out of his day to shake my hand, learn my name and thank me without knowing anything about me, stuck with me."

Tharp also shared his experiences working closely with Snider.

"From day one, Ed was the type of guy who never made you feel like you were working for him, but you were working with him," he said. 

"He had an energy about him that is unparalleled, and I learned so much from just being able to hang around him and pick his brain."

A Legacy Of Learning

It's been almost two years since his passing, but the specter of Ed Snider's generosity and caring for the people of his adopted city still looms large. The foundation remains in good hands with a team that remains dedicated to keeping his dream alive.

Success is not measured in the number of young boys and girls who proudly wear the bright orange jerseys on the ice at one of the rinks that Snider saved from the wrecking ball. Rather, success comes from the number of kids who have used their time in the game as a springboard to achieve greater goals. And those who knew him best would say that it's those accomplishments that would make Ed Snider most proud.

"The Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation has made a remarkable contribution to the city of Philadelphia by saving neighborhood rinks from demolition, winterizing them so they could be used year-round, adding classrooms and providing a place for young athletes to play-and to learn," Bettman said. 

"The emphasis on scholarship, as well as athletic skill, has improved the city's graduation rate while also reinforcing the important life lessons hockey teaches: teamwork, hard work, discipline and commitment of the individual to the success of the group. 

"Ed knew that while not everyone who loves hockey and plays hockey will make it to the National Hockey League, the life lessons learned from hockey will carry every player forward." 

Issue: 
2018-01

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