This column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.
The long and winding road took us through five states, two cities and nearly a dozen games, but it took last weekend until the Only One finally ran into what he seemingly thought would be an elusive goal to reach — Black hockey players all at U-M’s Ridder Arena.
Kallya Johnson, a Boston College junior defenseman, played against Harvard in this year’s Women’s Frozen Four national semifinals two weekends ago, and juniors Sean Gammage (University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point) and Xavier Louis Reed (Amherst College) were “healthy scratches” for their respective teams who played last weekend in the 2015 NCAA Division III Men’s Hockey Championships. This meant the two young men watched the game in street clothes rather than in uniform.
“He’s had a tough time sustaining a spot in our lineup,” admits UWSP Coach Chris Brooks on Gammage of Wildwood, Missouri.
“He’s a great kid, great teammate,” adds Amherst Coach Jack Arena of Reed, an Oakland, Calif. native who came to the Massachusetts school after a year at a Connecticut prep school then a year playing junior hockey in Boston. “We’ve actually had a few [players of color]” at the school, says the coach.
Both Gammage and Reed talked to the MSR in separate interviews last Friday. The two Only One players ironically were both scratched in the same semifinals contest where their schools met.
Gammage points out, “At school, I’m mainly known as the Black guy with a [missing] tooth that plays on the hockey team.”
“Obviously it’s frustrating” not playing, says Reed — his team lost to Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He says he usually finds out whether or not he’ll be playing via email on the morning of the game. “I’ve dressed for about half the games this season. You want to be playing but at the same time, you have to stay positive and root for your teammates when you are not playing. Your job is to be ready because when you are called upon — be ready to perform.”
Adds Gammage — his school finished as national runners-up to champion Trinity (Conn.) College: “It’s really difficult” to watch the game from the stands.
The two players nonetheless appreciated being part of this year’s Frozen Four.
Playing at a Division I school, albeit for a few days, “has been a cool change of pace for every team. We usually don’t get to stay at hotels like the Radisson downtown — we usually [stay] at Econo Lodge,” says Reed. “But every team has to stay focused at the task at hand — to win two games.”
“It’s neat to get to play in a Division I arena, get to travel and stay in hotels, good meals, a banquet … [it] means as much to them as it does whether you’re at Division II or Division I,” notes Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference Commissioner G. Steven Larson. His league hosted the Frozen Four.
The overall goal is for all the players on the final four teams to have “a first-class experience,” he surmised.
Another Only One at the hockey tourney
Augustine Brutus saw her first hockey game during her freshman year at Finlandia (Mich.) University in 2011. “I knew nothing about hockey whatsoever until I moved to the U.P. [Upper Peninsula]. Now I’m an old hand at it,” says Brutus, the only woman of color working behind the scenes at last weekend’s tourney — she kept the scorebook during games among other duties.
“I plan on going to graduate school to get my sports administration degree,” concludes Brutus, a senior majoring in business with a sports management minor who is interning at her school’s athletic department.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.