Written by: Jeremy Goode
In what has become an annual tradition over the last several years, Snider Hockey celebrated its high school graduating Class of 2019 by hosting Senior Night on June 19, 43 stories above Philadelphia at Ralph’s Café atop the Comcast Center.
“Senior Night is one of my favorite events that we do,” said Casey Kilduff, a Hockey Programs Coordinator with Snider Hockey. “You get to see young men and women that you have worked with for years all dressed up and in a different light.”
This year, Snider Hockey acknowledged 29 high school seniors who have grown and contributed to the program for years. Parents, Board Members, Community Leaders, and Staff also joined in the festivities. Members of the Class of 2019 will be attending a wide range of colleges, including Duke University, U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Art Institute of Chicago, and Temple University, as well as several other institutions.
A handful of Snider Hockey graduates will attend West Chester University, Elizabethtown College, and Kutztown University, all schools that have partnered with the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation’s Goals and Assists scholarship program.
Additionally, several students will engage in apprenticeships or directly enter the workforce.
As Alumni Programs Coordinator, Erin Ficca emphasized, “it is one of the only times we really publicly get to congratulate our seniors on their success. Graduating high school is a really big deal.”
While it was a night for the high school Class of 2019 to be recognized, Snider Hockey also acknowledged several alumni graduating from college, as well as alumni currently still in college. In addition, special guests, including Flyers legend and Hockey Hall of Fame Member, Bernie Parent, and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, were also in attendance.
Ficca also recognized that as much pride as Snider Hockey took in honoring its seniors, the greatest honor was for the recipients, all of whom helped to contribute to a successful event.
“I know the seniors and their families really appreciated it,” said Ficca. “It is our fanciest event for our students. The backdrop is amazing with the surrounding buildings. It was really nice.”
In addition to celebrating the senior class, Snider Hockey uses Senior Night to help its students meet new people through networking, according to Sam Napierkowski, Manager of Postsecondary Success at Snider Hockey.
“We want everyone to have a good time,” Napierkowski said. “But we also ask the graduates and other alumni who are there to get out and talk to the VIPs and board members who are in attendance. Seeing them make those connections is always something we look for.”
After 11 years with Snider Hockey, high school graduate Matt Ryan said that the Foundation “provided me a great opportunity to play hockey.” He recognized how much of an honor it was to be celebrated with his “really tight” senior class, and said he became better at time management and public speaking. Ryan will be attending Kutztown University in the fall.
Maryam Belgrave, a senior who joined Snider Hockey in 2009 and will be attending Duke University in the fall, addressed how the foundation helped her family financially.
“I have a big family,” said Belgrave. “My parents needed us to do things that would not make us broke.”
Snider Hockey alumnus and recent Temple University undergraduate John Forsythe, who was also honored, shared similar sentiments.
“My parents could not afford hockey programming,” said Forsythe. “When they found out about Snider Hockey, we took it.”
Belgrave credited the completely free hockey programming with taking a burden off her family’s shoulders. While reflecting on how she has grown, Belgrave believes she was able to find her voice and become a leader through her time with the foundation. Additionally, she acknowledged that she became a better worker while learning to manage her time, ultimately contributing to her academic success.
“Work comes first, everything else comes second,” said Belgrave. “Duke would not have happened without Snider Hockey.”
Forsythe, who wrote and delivered a speech at the event, will begin work in accounting at Ernst and Young after graduating from Temple University this spring. He recognized the easy-going nature of the event as beneficial, explaining that he was able to “go up to anyone” and have a conversation.
“Senior Night was a great event to network with board members in addition to catching up with old coaches,” said Forsythe.
Every year, Snider Hockey nominates one graduating senior for the Ed Snider Leadership Award. The recipient receives a $5,000 scholarship for studies at his or her next academic institution. Belgrave, to her surprise, received the award.
“At first I was thinking not to fall,” Belgrave joked about walking up to receive the award. “And then I realized how grateful I was to be in this position.”
Belgrave had shined throughout her ten years with the program. On the ice, she represented Snider Hockey at the NHL Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend. Additionally, she has participated on behalf of the foundation with the Atlantic District Camp, USA Hockey Multi District Camp, and the DVCHC Showcase.
Off the ice, Belgrave is the president of both the Muslim Student Association and the Muslim Interscholastic Tournament. Furthermore, she is a member of Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia and Women of Tomorrow. Belgrave also volunteers with Snider Hockey and the Philadelphia Zoo.
Kilduff said that it was great seeing one of her players speak after receiving her award.
“She thanked everyone at Snider Hockey and her mom for helping her grow into the person she is,” Kilduff said. “It was so touching to see her make such heartfelt statements on the spot.”
Throughout the years that the seniors participated with Snider Hockey, they did not merely grow physically. Rather, Kilduff pointed out that she has a front row seat to see how students mature through programming.
“There is nothing better than seeing the students grow up and figure themselves out and leave us better than they came,” said Kilduff. “It is my absolute favorite part of the job.”
While their time as hockey participants may be over, Napierkowski stressed that Snider Hockey believes it is important to continue to lead its recent graduates in the right direction.
“Our graduating high school students receive a leather padded folio with Snider Hockey’s logo on it,” said Napierkowski. “The idea is hopefully they are using it to take notes next year when they are at school.”
All of the 2019 graduates additionally received 100 business cards to assist with networking and establishing themselves in the academic and business worlds.
“For our seniors who are trying to find their first jobs out of college, the fact that they can walk into an office and give somebody a business card is something that is cool in my mind,” said Napierkowski.
Ficca also noted that Senior Night is a period of change as well as celebration, as the Class of 2019 become members of the next stage of Snider Hockey.
Ficca said, “It is less of a goodbye… and more of a ‘you are transitioning into the alumni program.”
The Class of 2019 came from diverse backgrounds, but they all had one end goal in mind, which they achieved through their years of dedication and commitment to Snider Hockey.
“Knowing that a lot of us come from rough neighborhoods, seeing that all of us made it and are moving on is surreal,” said Belgrave.