Story by Annie Sheehan
“It’s a dream, really.”
These are the words Brad Erickson uses to describe the Inner-City Education Program, an academic scholarship organization for low-income hockey players he founded in 2003. The organization added a hockey club and mandatory tutoring component in 2015, and has now grown to serve multiple communities in the Chicagoland area as well as provide over twenty girls and boys with scholarships to private schools, 1st grade and up. What began with one rag-tag group of hockey players at an outdoor rink in West Garfield park has now changed the lives of countless students, and is on track to serve many more in the years to come.
On September 13th, a beautiful blue-sky Sunday, Erickson laced up his own skates and headed towards the 606 to participate in the Chicago Gay Hockey Association’s virtual skate-a-thon. The 1st annual CGHA event committed 100% of donations to the Inner-City Education Program. Erickson describes his own commitment to the skate-a-thon as motivated by raising money for the kids, combined with his lifetime of playing hockey and his recent passion for long distance cycling. He laughed about skate-a-thons as a young hockey player when, to help off-set fees, his club would ask people in the community to pledge a penny per lap. Erickson would skate 200 laps then, “Afterwards I’d have to go around and knock on doors five times to collect $2 each – it took weeks.”
It was a bit of a different story this time around. The original tagline was “Brad’s 50 miles for $5,000”, but he far exceeded that goal in both mileage and money raised.
“I was originally shooting for 50 miles, because I wanted to do something big,” he explains. “And then when I was out there I thought, why not skate my age?”
Wearing brand new inline “speed skates” purchased two days prior, and accompanied the final 10 miles by a friend on a bike, Erickson clocked in a whopping 52 miles for CGHA’s “Skate for Scholarships.” His training schedule had only started ten days earlier, with a minor injury sustained after his 21 mile skate, but he still kept an average speed of 17-18 mph to complete all 52 miles in under 4 hours.
“I carried a water bottle in one hand and my cycling computer in the other to track my time, speed and distance. It shows my average speed was 13.39 mph, but that includes super slow turnarounds on the huge wheels, trips to the car for water bottles, etc. I felt better than expected the last 10 miles and was tired, but my body was in a weird auto-pilot skating mode. Taking off the skates and going down the stairs, walking afterwards, that was painful.”
But it was well worth it. The fundraiser brought in $24,000 for the program, with Brad’s 52 miles accounting for $9,500 of it. While hockey may not be a possibility this season due to the pandemic, this fundraising money will continue to provide life-changing scholarships for students in the program, one mile at a time.
About the Chicago Gay Hockey Association (CGHA)
The CGHA’s mission is to provide a non-discriminatory environment and all encompassing experience within the recreational adult hockey community. The CGHA covers it all from playing in hockey leagues to organizing scrimmages. Through fundraising and merchandise sales, they sponsor free practice ice and lessons, team essentials like pucks and water bottles, and travel assistance to tournaments. Team building is an important part of the organization. The numerous social and volunteering events help improve team camaraderie. All people with a passion for hockey – novice or pro, male or female, straight or gay, players or fans – can join the organization.
Prior to the Skate for Scholarships event, CGHA had raised over $15,000 for various local groups such as Chicago Special Olympics, Chicago Cares, Equality Illinois, and more. The CGHA is committed to helping not only the LGBT community, but all communities in Chicago.