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NHL, Thurgood Marshall Fund Launch HBCU Scholarship Initiative

At a Congressional Hockey Caucus panel today on Capitol Hill, National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman joined Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, in announcing a new four-year scholarship initiative aimed at inner-city youths.

Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.), co-chair of the caucus, hosted the panel today, with NBC News anchor Luke Russert as a moderator. While football and basketball don't have congressional caucuses of their own, a minor league baseball caucus exists, as does a Congressional Youth Sports Caucus.

The NHL-Thurgood Marshall scholarship initiative, scheduled to launch in January, will be open to any child who participates in the NHL's Hockey Is for Everyone program, which looks to expand the game into traditionally underserved urban areas.

Bettman said at the briefing today that the Hockey Is for Everyone initiative was about "character development and life-skills training," not just a program designed to improve students' hockey skills. In the 25+ HIFE organizations across the U.S., students must maintain a 3.0 grade point average to participate in the program.

For the new initiative, all applicants must maintain a 3.0 GPA to even be considered, and must continue averaging a 3.0 throughout college to keep their four-year, merit-based scholarship. The program will give preference to any student who wishes to attend one of the nation's 47 public historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs).

Taylor said in an interview after the briefing that the scholarship fund has already raised roughly $120,000, largely due to proceeds from the upcoming Congressional Hockey Challenge (this Sunday, March 4).

When asked what his goal was for the fund, he replied, "My dream? My dream is that we put 200 children in school next year. And what's wonderful about the commitment is that it's not one year. The commitment is to take each one of these kids through four years."

According to Taylor, the average in-state tuition for an HBCU is somewhere around $6,200, which means the group is roughly one-tenth of the way toward completing his goal at this point. The NHL and Thurgood Marshall College Fund will continue to fundraise this coming year for the initiative.

During the panel, Taylor credited his vice president of government affairs, Willie Meaux, for getting the partnership off the ground. When Meaux initially confronted Taylor about the proposed partnership, Taylor, replied, "What? Black people don't play hockey. We don't watch hockey."

Meaux pressed Taylor into a meeting, he complied, and the rest is history.

He realized that many inner-city children don't have access to ice rinks to play hockey, and thus, the game would never grow on a grassroots level in those places until that problem was remedied.

"The emergence of a partnership such as this between the National Hockey League and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund provides an opportunity for African-American youth to expand their horizons and participate in a sport that has not been historically embraced," said Taylor in a statement. "This not only serves as an opportunity for more engagement with the sport of hockey, but it is also a pathway to higher education."

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