Written by: Jeremy Goode
A familiar face will continue to roam Scanlon Ice Rink this fall. Raul Figueroa, known as “Roly” to all his colleagues at Snider Hockey, was promoted to Site Coordinator at Scanlon earlier this month. Figueroa’s hire marks the first time a Snider Hockey alumnus has become a full-time employee with the foundation.
“Scanlon is just me, I know the rink; I know the people…” Figueroa said. “I take it with a lot of pride and it sets the bar for alumni after me.”
Figueroa, 26, grew up in the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia, and has always been a rink-rat. Since his earliest days he remembers bouncing around Philadelphia’s hockey scene, going from rink to rink and skating with his friends. He skated at Scanlon even before he heard of Snider Hockey programming as a kid.
“I skated there when it was a chained-link fence back in the day,” Figueroa said. “My dad would shine the lights of his car on the ice, and my friends and I would play at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
While he was an avid roller and ice hockey player since early childhood, Figueroa surprisingly was a late bloomer as a student with Snider Hockey. In fact, it took one of Figueroa’s high school hockey teammates at Roman Catholic to convince him to attend practice. He finally attended his first practice in 2010, the beginning of his junior year in high school, at Scanlon.
Initially, Figueroa was shocked to find out about the free programming at Snider Hockey. As someone who had skated for years, he understood that there was a financial cost to play the sport he was so passionate about. From equipment, hockey gear, and ice time, Figueroa always had to pay to play -- that is, until he stumbled upon Snider Hockey.
Figueroa stepped into Scanlon and instantly felt a part of the Snider Hockey family, after receiving attention from his then-coach, Matt Braun.
“The second I walked through the door, he gripped me,” Figueroa said, emphasizing that Braun and his teammates took him under their wings.
Figueroa continued to enjoy the next year and a half he spent skating with Snider Hockey at the Scanlon rink.
He had found his niche. He enjoyed the new friendships he made. He enjoyed traveling around Philadelphia to play against various teams. It was life changing; Figueroa acknowledged that it was the greatest thing to ever happen to him.
Eighteen months later, Figueroa became a member of the first graduating class of Snider Hockey. At Snider Hockey’s Senior Night celebration, Figueroa recalled a line that Braun mentioned in a speech that inspired him to become the coach he is today.
“At some point a coach needs a kid and then a kid needs a coach. That night, I realized I wanted to be that coach to make a connection.”
After graduating high school in 2011, while taking classes at Temple University, Figueroa took Braun’s words to heart and was hired at Scanlon.
“I was hired as a coach, but my role included off-ice as well, such as fitting kids [for equipment], and making plans for running practices,” Figueroa said.
Director of Hockey Programs, Dan Rudd, saw firsthand how Figueroa grew as a coach with Snider Hockey.
“When he first started as a staff member, he had high energy and a passion for what we did, but was still finding his voice as a leader among his peers on staff,” Rudd said. “He has firmly found that voice now and is respected by everyone at Scanlon and across Snider Hockey.”
Figueroa excelled as a hockey coach and moved up the ladder with his promotion to Assistant Site Coordinator at Scanlon in 2017, continuing his deep roots with the Scanlon Ice Rink and Snider Hockey.
Ryan McCanney, who was the most recent Site Coordinator at Scanlon before moving to the same position at the Laura Sims Skate House, applauded Figueroa’s promotion, having observed first hand for five years how dedicated Figueroa was at Scanlon. He considered Figueroa his right-hand man.
“When I first started at Scanlon, Roly was just a part-time coach,” McCanney said.
After Assistant Site Coordinator Justin Foley left to become the Site Coordinator at the Simons Recreation Center, McCanney knew whom to turn to fill the vacant position.
“There was no other replacement besides him,” McCanney said. “He was the best coach we had.”
The new appointment for Figueroa proved to pay off. Already a regular at the Scanlon Ice Rink, Figueroa promptly became a go-to person at the rink.
“If I was not at the rink, I knew that Roly would be there and he could handle anything,” McCanney said. “He is very approachable, he knows all the families, all the kids, and all the kids love him.”
As the Assistant Site Coordinator, Figueroa hit the ground running, spending much of his time recruiting by going to schools three to four times a week, while also monitoring retention rates.
Figueroa loved his new leadership role, growing as a person in a way he had not expected.
“I never saw myself as a people-person and I have always been shy or shaky-footed,” Figueroa said. “So to go out and meet principals, gym teachers, and students I do not know, it is an experience and I have gained more confidence to go out and say, ‘Hey! I am Raul Figueroa! I can do this! This is what we are about…’”
Rudd recognized how important it was to have a Snider Hockey alumnus become a full-time staff member with the foundation.
“Our alumni are the best representatives we have to maximize the benefits students can get from our program,” Rudd said. “They have grown up in the neighborhoods our students live in and are able to give firsthand accounts of their journey to the next generation of Snider Hockey students.”
As Figueroa’s mentor, McCanney echoed Rudd’s excitement about Figueroa’s appointment.
“He’s so happy to get the job… and it is actually his first full-time job,” McCanney said. “I’m sad to leave Scanlon, but I know it is in good hands with Roly.”
Snider Hockey President/CEO Scott Tharp himself has explained how important Figueroa has been to the foundation.
“Raul embodies what it means to be a part of Snider Hockey,” Tharp said. “After completing hockey programming as a student, he decided to give back through coaching at the rink where he once skated. We are excited to bring Raul onboard as a full-time Coordinator at Scanlon.”
Snider Hockey Chairman, Bill Whitmore, makes a similar point.
“On and off the ice, Raul has had a positive impact on Snider Hockey, especially at the Scanlon Ice Rink,” Whitmore said. “Our students not only become better hockey players, but they become even better people through the endless time and effort Raul devotes to the foundation.”
Figueroa attributes some of the patience he must show in his new role to his being a new father to fifteen-month old Raul Figueroa IV, nicknamed “RJ.”
“Being a dad has changed me by making me more patient,” Figueroa said. “You’re always going to have those days when you have six kids on the ice or 20 and you have to make a practice plan for both. There are so many things that could happen during each practice unexpectedly… patience.”
As much as Snider Hockey programming has excelled under Figueroa’s leadership, McCanney also acknowledged how important Snider Hockey has been to Figueroa.
“He didn’t really start as a 5 year old…, he started more towards the end and jumped on the ice right away,” McCanney said. “But it shows a lot about our program and how we develop our coaches and students. It makes everything come full-circle.” Rudd added, “while we have alumni who find work all over the world in various fields, there is always the chance that some of our alumni will be able to achieve full-time employment here.”
Figueroa’s positive and happy nature always is on display while working at Scanlon.
“When I walk into the rink, no matter if I am having a bad day, I try to make the best of it and put a smile on my face,” Figueroa said. “I feel like what we do is not a job. I love hockey, and I want to have an impact on another student.”