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Olympian Molly Schaus making a difference with kids through Ducks' S.C.O.R.E. program

Olympian Molly Schaus making a difference with kids through Ducks' S.C.O.R.E. program
Molly Schaus participated in her second Olympics with the U.S. hockey team in 2014. (USA Hockey)

Molly Schaus came up with many reasons why she shouldn’t leave her home and family in Boston for a job with the Ducks that would challenge her in ways she hadn’t experienced while playing goal at Boston College and for the silver medal U.S. Olympic teams at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games.

Moving would be hard. The tug of the familiar was strong.

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She was intrigued by what she’d learned about the Ducks’ S.C.O.R.E (Scholastic Curriculum of Recreation and Education) program, a nonprofit program designed to educate elementary school kids and get them physically active through playing street hockey, but she didn’t know how her role as fan development marketing manager would fill in the blanks of her life.

Schaus had played two seasons in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League after college. She ended her career in 2015 with her fourth gold medal at the world championships and tried coaching and volunteering at nonprofits, but nothing grabbed her mind and heart until she went to the 2016 Youth Olympics in Norway with the International Ice Hockey Federation.

“Being back in that Olympic-type environment with international athletes I th56ought, ‘You know what, I love the idea of youth development and international sport and using hockey as a vehicle to do good in the world,’ ” she said.

Working for the S.C.O.R.E. program put those elements together. “I was like, ‘I have to go and do this and take that jump,’ ” she said.

Since taking that leap nearly three years ago, Schaus has influenced kids in new ways. She hung up her goaltending gear — she’s a forward in skates with staffers and for the Lady Ducks women’s B team — and has channeled her passion in a new direction.

“I love what I do. I love the community outreach, I love the educational side of things,” she said. “We work with 60,000 kids. They’re not all going to be hockey players, but if we can inspire a kid to have more confidence to try something new or do better in the classroom or just live a healthy lifestyle, that’s more important to me. We talk about it all the time: Sport is such a universal language and has the power at every age level and every nationality to make a positive impact on kids’ lives.”

S.C.O.R.E. is funded by the Ducks Foundation and a grant from the Industry Growth Fund of the NHL and NHL Players’ Assn. The program — which has no on-ice component — stresses science, reading, physical fitness and leadership through connections to hockey. Schools are given supplies, manuals and curricula. Many kids hadn’t held a hockey stick before they participated. That was a shock for Schaus, who grew up in Minnesota, Chicago, and Boston.

“When I moved out here one of my jobs was to update the street hockey curriculum,” she said. “And they told me, ‘You don’t understand. These kids didn’t grow up playing pond hockey. They didn’t grow up playing street hockey.’ So I was wondering, what’s the hockey culture out here? It’s incredible. It’s one of the fastest-growing states in USA Hockey [registration].”

One of Schaus’ main responsibilities is the First Flight field trip, which will take place Thursday at Honda Center. It began with kids watching practice and for its 19th edition has evolved into activities for 17,000 students in third through sixth grade from Orange County and beyond. They’ll try exhibits in the parking lot before they enter the arena to watch and interact with Ducks players.

“It’s the loudest the arena has ever been,” Schaus said. “We’ve measured it against playoffs, concerts, Justin Timberlake.”

This year’s theme centered on getting kids to engineer a better puck. Kids were given activity kits and teachers got software to help them; classes submitted 3D files that were printed and will be used by the Ducks in Thursday’s practice.

“It’s a really neat way to connect,” Schaus said. “Here’s a kid learning in the classroom and the next day, Corey Perry is using his design on ice and talking about the surface area and bounce. When I was in fourth grade I could never have done this.”

The focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is supplemented by an outlet for art, and on Friday, goalie Ryan Miller is scheduled to wear a mask designed by the winner of a contest. Kids were asked to use their lives as inspiration, and they didn’t have to include the Ducks’ logo or colors. Many poignant and funny designs appeared among the 800 submissions.

“It showcases the creativity they allow us here,” she said.

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Some of her Ducks colleagues didn’t know Schaus slipped out of the office a few weeks ago to be honored by Boston College in a jersey-retirement ceremony. To her, that was part of her past life.

“When I came here, I really wanted to prove there’s more to me than this hockey player,” she said. “I wanted prove that I could do the work and I can fit in and the Olympics was just something I did, like a previous job that anybody had.”

Handling logistics for the First Flight event and other community initiatives has given her a new sense of purpose.

“I grew up in the same town as Cammi Granato and I wrote her a letter in ’98 and invited her to come speak at my school and she did,” Schaus said of the pioneer hockey star who won gold in the first women’s Olympic hockey tournament. “I got to go on stage and wear her medal, and there I was in fourth-grade assembly with an Olympian and I said, ‘I want to do that.’ Twenty-five years later, I’m the one speaking at assembly hoping some kid sitting there says, ‘I want to do that.’ ”

See it and be it. Schaus did, and she's making it easier for others to follow.

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