Hockey, Hoops and Life Skills

Innovative ‘LET’s Play by Symetra’ program, supported by Kraken and Storm, teaches skills in sports, leadership, equity and teamwork to students in Highline school district — By Bob Condor

Last Wednesday, 75 fourth-grade students in the Highline school district scored a hat trick of the best sort when the “LET’S Play by Symetra” program launched at Midway Elementary School in Des Moines.

Partnering with the Storm, Kraken and the Highline school district, Symetra will stage a five-week week schedule of special physical education classes or assemblies to provide an opportunity for Midway fourth-graders to improve their skills in, one, basketball, two, ball hockey and, three, best of all, leadership, equity and teamwork skills. The latter represent the L, E and T in the LET’S Play program title.

The program kicked off last week with a Wednesday event featuring speakers from the Storm, Kraken and Symetra. Along with basketball and ball hockey sessions, the students got to meet the Kraken’s radio voice, Everett Fitzhugh, along with Storm radio and in-arena emcee, Shellie Hart, and Storm mascot, Doppler.

One huge highlight for all, whether the kids, teachers, administrators or personalities on hand: This was one of just a few assemblies attended by the fourth-graders in quite some time due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

 “It was a lot of fun to be a part of one of the few assemblies the kids have had this year,” said Fitzhugh, who flashed his stickhandling moves and natural ability to teach the game on or off the air, in this case as a ball hockey instructor.

“You could feel the excitement in the gym. The kids were totally engaged [and suitably loud and laughing]. It is always great when you can get into the community and support our organizational goal of providing more access to sport. I can’t wait to be a part of many more of these sessions.”

The next few weeks will cover lessons on leadership, teamwork, plus drills for skill development. The final event for this group of youth will be a trip to Climate Pledge Arena. The visit will bring the whole curriculum into perspective with the students able to walk the halls of the professional athletes that they follow.

Symetra, the Kraken’s first founding partner, will “adopt” a new class and school each year to be similarly supported by the Storm and hockey team. The life insurance company will make a $1,000 donation to Highline Schools Foundation for every 2021/22 home-game win by the teams.

Tracy Wort, assistant director of community relations at Symetra, presented district superintendent Dr. Susan Enfield with a check to the Highline Schools Foundation for $11,000—representing the Storm’s home wins during the 2021 WNBA season. A second Symetra donation to the foundation will follow at the end of the Kraken’s inaugural NHL season.

To date, the Kraken have distributed ball hockey curriculum to all Highline Elementary schools and are partnering with the PE department for teacher training and other engagement opportunities. In 2020, the Kraken traveled the Black Hockey History Mobile Museum to Chinook Middle School and attended the school’s virtual career exploration day in 2021.

“Over the last two years, the world has often felt very small and isolating for our students,” said Deborah Ellis, principal at Midway Elementary. “Being a part of this amazing event and program really helped our fourth graders feel connected—not only to these amazing sports teams and community members, but to our greater Seattle community.”

Highline School District serves youth in Boulevard Park, Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, SeaTac and White Center. Highline Schools serve nearly 18,000 youth, including 79 percent students of color, across 35 schools.

The winter program includes upcoming question-and-answers with team players and leaders. Every student will receive a backpack complete with LET’S Play t-shirt, water bottle and Eco-notebook, plus a box of at-home play-based resources from KidsQuest Children’s Museum.

Along with imparting lessons about leadership, equity, teamwork and sports skill, Symetra and the Highline school district, plus the two pro sports team, a significant intention is making it fun and uplifting for the kids.

“During such a time of uncertainty and stress,” said Ellis, “this partnership is bringing connectedness, community spirit and a ton of joy to our Midway students.”