By Mark Colley
Nepean Nighthawks Field Hockey Club founder Sandeep Chopra has been coaching for 40 years and has seen several of his players compete at the top international level, but he nonetheless picks the club’s Stick Together program as perhaps his favourite career highlight.
“This is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done,” underlines Chopra.
Stick Together is a program for local Indigenous youth that provides barrier-free access to field hockey. It allows eight-year-olds to 14-year-olds to participate in the Nighthawks’ junior recreational programs for free, with the club covering transportation and equipment costs too.
Chopra said there’s a growing need for programs like Stick Together, but that need is often overlooked.
The Nighthawks launched the program in January (inside the gym at Carleton University) in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action. The 87th call to action encourages the federal government to support reconciliation through policies that reduce barriers to sport participation.
The program, which has since continued on for the club’s spring season, received support from Decisive Group, an Ottawa-based tech company, as well as Field Hockey Canada and the Field Hockey Centre.
In a typical session, the younger groups will play for an hour, then the older groups will play for an hour and a half. But everyone of all ages came together for February’s Frosty Cup, an annual indoor tournament hosted by the Nighthawks.
First-time Stick Together program participants could be teamed up with past national team or World Cup players.
“It fills the gym with real positive energy,” Chopra signals. “It’s about big kids helping the little kids. If we don’t have that, what do we have?”
One mother who attended the tournament with her son learned about Stick Together through Facebook and signed her son up.
“He’s never touched a field hockey stick ever before,” she explains, laughing that she at first thought he was joining a floor hockey program.
But he improved every week, and enjoyed making friends.
“[He] just loves the game and we’re here every weekend,” his mother notes. “He gets excited for Saturday to arrive.”
She adds that she would recommend the sport and the program to anyone who might be interested.
The Nighthawks partnered with several organizations serving Indigenous communities locally to spread the word about the opportunity. It’s an initiative the club wants to see continue, with inclusive programming serving as a trademark of the planned Field Hockey Centre facility under development for Colonnade Road.
The next goal is to expand Stick Together to serve even more participants. The Nighthawks have a bus that picks up participants and brings them to the program site.
“What we’re going to try to do now is fill that bus,” Chopra smiles.
– with files from Dan Plouffe
This article is part of the Ottawa Sports Pages’ weekly Inclusion in Sport series. Read more about local sport inclusion initiatives at: OttawaSportsPages.ca/Ottawa-Sports-Pages-Inclusion-In-Sport-Series/.
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