The National Hockey League recently awarded a Tampa Bay sports-based youth development center with a check for $5,000 to help promote academics and character formation through athletics.

The NHL partnered with the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team to invest in The Skills Center, a local youth organization with a mission to “intentionally utilize athletics as a mechanism to create change through academic success, life skills, and mentoring for young people ages 3-18 in Tampa Bay,” according to NHL.com.

"We'd like to thank the National Hockey League for awarding The Skills Center with a Diversity and Inclusion Grant today," said Lightning’s vice president of community hockey development, Jay Feaster. "The additional funds will allow for these kids to experience the great game of hockey, while also making it possible for the facility to implement the Future Goals-Hockey Scholar program. We look forward to using hockey to aid in the development of the children at The Skills Center."

The NHL grant is focused on using street hockey to engage elementary and middle school students in the “Future Goals-Hockey Scholar” character education program. The Skills Center will use the money to buy bumper divider pads to convert its outdoor basketball courts into a street hockey rink, and for iPads for the after-school program.

The Tampa Bay Lightning invited about 50 students from The Skills Center to a check presentation ceremony at Centennial Fan Arena in early December. The Skills Center executive director Celeste Roberts accepted the check at the event, which also featured a tutorial of the Future Goals-Hockey Scholar program and free t-shirts for students.

“The Skills Center provides school-based and community-based programs that motivate youth to learn, change behavior and succeed in school,” NHL.com reports. “Focusing on developing core competencies through academic instruction and character education, the organization's prevention services promote positive youth development to all youth, especially at-risk and disadvantaged elementary, middle, and high school students through school day, after school and summer programs; leagues, travel teams, and camps/clinics.”

The NHL’s investment is a good thing, because when athletic and other organizations invest in supportive networks, they strengthen the community that forms character in children.

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, points out in his book The Tragedy of Moral Education:

Moral education can work where the community, and schools and other institutions within it, share a moral culture that is integrated and mutually reinforcing . . .

The Skills Center is obviously one of many institutions supporting families and schools in forming good character in students.

The Skills Center website offers ways parents and others can volunteer to contribute to its mission of teaching values and life skills through sports. It also offers a wide variety of resources for students and parents, from academic mentoring and leadership opportunities to elite training camps and sports leagues.

“Our philosophy is every kid is capable of learning in the right environment, with caring adults and an intentional focus,” according to the site. “We give our youth an environment that brings out the best in them and give us the opportunity to coach them for life.”

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