Northern Lakes Lightning hockey players share message with young students in Pine River, Pequot Lakes, Aitkin
They read book about bullying and racism written by coach's former player
PINE RIVER — February is “I Love to Read Month,” and elementary students at three area schools were able to hear their varsity boys hockey players read a book written by a former student of Coach Erik Vetsch.
“I wanted us to do something for the community for our hockey team,” said Vetsch, coach for the Northern Lakes Lightning boys hockey team and social studies teacher at Pine River-Backus High School.
I just think it’s cool that one of my former players wrote a book that my current players can read. It tries to spread a good message that everybody can get along and be fine with each other.
Because the team includes Pequot Lakes, Pine River-Backus, Aitkin and Crosby-Ironton schools, Vetsch’s goal was for players to read at elementary schools in each of those communities.
“They loved it,” he said of the players who participated.
The book they read — “Hockey is for Everybody” — is special to Vetsch because the author is Anthony Walsh, a former hockey player at Edina High School, where Vetsch previously coached.
“He grew up with a lot of issues playing hockey because he’s Black, especially where he grew up and lived,” Vetsch said.
Walsh attended college after graduating from high school and is now in law school at Hamline University in St. Paul.
“He wrote a book to explain what he went through — on bullying and being a Black student. There’s a message of anti-bullying as well in there,” Vetsch said.
Lightning players read to students Feb. 6 at Pine River-Backus Elementary School, Feb. 10 at Eagle View Elementary School in Breezy Point and Feb. 16 at Rippleside Elementary School in Aitkin.
Anthony is such a special dude. He’s worked so hard to get to where he’s at and he had to deal with some adversity and bullying.
Vetsch hopes players can read at Cuyuna Range Elementary School in Crosby as well.
“I just think it’s cool that one of my former players wrote a book that my current players can read,” he said. “It tries to spread a good message that everybody can get along and be fine with each other.
“For me, it means a lot,” Vetsch said. “Anthony is such a special dude. He’s worked so hard to get to where he’s at and he had to deal with some adversity and bullying.”
It’s a good story — anybody can play hockey, Vetsch said, and he hopes to use it to help grow participation in the sport among Pine River-Backus students.
He wrote ‘Hockey is for Everybody’ to be a resource and an easy icebreaker into a tough and often emotional conversation that every parent should have with their child about race.
An online summary of Walsh’s trilogy of “Hockey is for Everybody” books reads:
“Anthony’s hockey team has battled its way to the championship, but his opponents keep using racist insults to throw him off his game. Even when he brings his best, some players try to tell him that he doesn’t belong.
“Can Anthony overcome the everyday micro-aggressions, stereotyping, and racism he encounters as a Black hockey player and help his team win a championship?
“Written from the child’s perspective, this story gives readers an inside look at the challenges and joys of becoming a winner in the sport of youth hockey. Author, Anthony Walsh, molds together into one story the experiences he had from his youth hockey days through the exhilarating experience of being on a high school state championship-winning team.
“He wrote ‘Hockey is for Everybody’ to be a resource and an easy icebreaker into a tough and often emotional conversation that every parent should have with their child about race.”
Nancy Vogt, editor, may be reached at 218-855-5877 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.