Gary Bettman, commissioner for the National Hockey League, and Ted Leonsis, Washington Capitals owner, minutes before Bettman announced new scholarship for "Hockey is for Everyone" participants to attend historically black colleges. (Megan Neunan/Medill)

WASHINGTON — Dishawn Jackson said he used to get in a lot of trouble. Now he just gets on the ice.
Jackson is one of more than 3,000 young people who have benefitted from the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, which offers at-risk students in the Philadelphia area both ice time and educational services like tutoring.

The high school senior was in the front row Wednesday at a Congressional Hockey Caucus briefing where National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman announced a new scholarship through the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a program named after the first African-American Supreme Court justice. It has provided nearly $100 million in scholarships for students to attend 47 historically black public colleges.

The new scholarship is specifically for students participating in one of more than 30 “Hockey is for Everyone” programs in U.S. cities, similar to the one Jackson credits for his academic success.
“Now I’m well disciplined,” Jackson said. “I have more respect than I did when I was younger. Snider helped me with that. They talk to you.”

Hockey hit the Hill hard Wednesday. The Stanley Cup made its grand entrance in the morning, getting displayed in both the House and the Senate. Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals, Bettman, and other big names in hockey joined the lawmakers to talk up the sport as a pathway to college for at-risk students and celebrate the new partnership between the NHL and Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

“You’ve taken these young inner-city kids and given them this amazing opportunity to play hockey, and then what? This is a natural progression,” explained Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. “If we haven’t done something to hand them off to the next phase of their life than we’ve failed.”

Taylor and Bettman have over $120,000 in commitments for the scholarship, which will be offered starting in the 2013-2014 academic year to students with a 3.0 GPA or better in the “Hockey is for Everyone” programs. Preference will be given in awarding the money to students who want to attend a historically black public college.

Nationally the number of kid hockey players surged 24 percent between 2007 and 2011 – and in the Washington region the number soared even higher. But it is not a traditional sport for minorities.
“At first I was like ‘I’m black. I don’t want to play no hockey,” Jackson said.

The new scholarship seeks to change this mindset, and show minorities a path to higher education through the sport.

Jackson hears back from the University of Pennsylvania and other top schools soon.

Members of the Congressional Hockey Caucus will take to the ice Sunday in an annual charity game. This year, proceeds will go toward the new scholarship program.