When Zuber Jasad enrolled his son – Hasan – in the 54 Division Pro Action Hockey League a year ago, he didn’t know what to expect.
“He was going to play the game for the first time and I didn’t know how he was going to adapt,” said the father.
Almost 12 months later, dad knows he did the right thing by registering his son in the Sunday afternoon league, now in its eighth year.
“He enjoys the sport and he’s very happy he’s part of this program,” said Jasad, who migrated from East Africa. “He looks forward to taking time out from his hectic academic schedule to come out here and have some fun with the other kids. The only problem is that he’s a Toronto Maple Leaf fan and I am a Montreal Canadiens supporter.”
Neighbourhood Officers from 54 Division conduct a 10-week hockey school program, starting in October, before the start of the 15-week organized season.
The 2017 season was launched on January 15 at Angela James Arena in Flemingdon Park.
“We have about 140 kids who are not sitting in front of the TV and are learning to skate for the first time,” said Acting Superintendent Paul MacIntyre. “We also should not forget they are meeting their local police officers for the first time. The other important part of this program is that young people who started in 2009 have come back and are now volunteering.”
Former police officer Jon Burnside, now the Don Valley West city councillor, was instrumental in launching the program.
“When the proposal was put in to get the project off the ground, I wasn’t sure if it would have been approved because it takes a lot of money and bodies to do something like this,” he said. “Not only has 54 Division given the children in this community an opportunity to play a sport that’s new to the majority of them, but it has transformed the relationship between the police and the community.”
Many of the community members in the Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park communities are immigrants.
“These two communities are a microcosm of the city in terms of the racial make-up and that’s reflected on the ice here today,” added Burnside. “That’s significant.”
Staff Sergeant George Mullin, the 54 Division Community Response Unit manager, attended the season-opener.
“This league started with about 70 kids and four teams. We are now up to eight teams and about 140 players between eight and 11,” said Mullin. “We have certainly come a long way in the last eight years and the community is very supportive of what we are doing for the young people.”
Nearly 40 per cent of the participants are girls.