ANAHEIM : Mighty Ducks Help Youths With GOALS
There are some who would say Les Gonzalez is skating on thin ice.
The 15-year-old said he recently was dropped from his high school’s wrestling team because of poor grades. The soft-spoken young man is also from one of Anaheim’s most crime-troubled neighborhoods--Ponderosa Park.
“Where I live there’s a lot of drug dealing and stuff,” Gonzalez said. “It’s like a drive-thru.”
But Gonzalez found himself on solid ice on Tuesday--for only his third time--and catching skating tips from National Hockey League great Rick Chartraw. Along with five other local youths, Gonzalez received a scholarship through Disney’s nonprofit group GOALS (Growth Opportunities through Athletics Learning and Service) to attend the Anaheim Mighty Ducks first summer ice hockey camp.
“I’m working with Les a lot,” said Chartraw, who skated on five Stanley Cup teams during his NHL career. “He doesn’t want to get over on that outside edge. He’ll get it though, he’s a hard worker.”
It’s Gonzalez’s work ethic that caught GOALS Executive Director Dave Wilk’s eye when selecting youngsters for the $350 scholarship to attend the weeklong day camp. GOALS’ purpose is to foster teamwork and individual achievement in underprivileged youths, Wilk said.
On the sheet of slippery ice at Glacial Gardens Ice Rink on Tuesday, the youths seemed more concerned with just improving their basic playing skills.
“Skating is weird. This is only my third time,” Gonzalez said. “It’s coming slowly.”
“I’m a little nervous,” he added. “Most of the guys here are advanced and I’m out there wobbling around. I get good speed, but not right off.”
The youths all ranked hockey’s infamous physicality as the main lure away from soccer and football fields.
“Yesterday, I was the only guy who checked somebody because someone got in my way,” said Abraham Aguilar, 15, from the Jeffrey-Lynne neighborhood. “When I hit the guy everybody applauded.”
“I like the physical contact,” he added.
Also attending the camp on scholarship were three teen-agers from a similar youth development program in New York City called Ice Hockey in Harlem. The visitors, all now enrolled in East Coast prep schools, said Southern Californians are respectable hockey players, but, well, California isn’t exactly New York.
“The hockey is pretty good out here,” said Bernie Smith, 15, from Harlem. “But in New York it’s a little rougher.”
Wilk said the visitors can help the Anaheim teens, who are still getting accustomed to precision skating and slap shots.
“For these Anaheim kids, they are starting a very foreign sport,” said Wilk, 38, who founded the Harlem hockey program in 1987. “I want them to see they can make it. I couldn’t ask for any better role models than the Harlem kids.”