Perhaps the single best thing to happen to the Snyder High School athletic program in recent memory originated from a simple breakfast meeting nearly 18 months ago.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop accepted an invitation from Hugh Weber, the new president of the New Jersey Devils.
“When we got here in 2013, it became a priority to become community partners,” Weber said. “My job is to reach the community. So that’s what I did. Mayor Fulop and I talked about a lot of things. We talked about the ice rink and how we could get more kids interested in hockey.”
Weber has already overseen the development of Hockey in Newark, teaching inner-city kids all the nuances of the sport. Weber wanted to do the same in Jersey City – but found that the Jersey City Capitals, spearheaded by the efforts of Charlie Heger, for whom the ice rink at Pershing Field is named, have been flourishing in Pershing Field for the better part of 25 years.
So the first aspect of the Devils’ community involvement was to integrate the Hockey in Newark program to Jersey City, calling it Hockey in New Jersey-Jersey City.
But that wasn’t all of the Devils’ community involvement. The team wanted to do something special to honor legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur as part of the club retiring his No. 30 uniform and lifting it to the rafters of the Prudential Center.
The Devils remembered that Brodeur’s father, Denis, was a well respected sports photographer, eventually becoming the team photographer for the Montreal Canadiens.
So Jim Leonard, the Devils’ senior vice president of community investment, then reached out to Snyder High School officials to see if there was interest in a photography program.
Karima McKenzie, the Snyder High School supervisor of athletics, could not believe the e-mail that she received from Leonard, seeing if Snyder would be interested in starting a sports photography program in honor of the late Denis Brodeur, who died in Sept. 2013.
McKenzie first thought it was some gag. But when she came to her senses, McKenzie was elated that her school and her students were being chosen for something as positive as this program.
“It was a no-brainer,” McKenzie said. “That e-mail ended up in my box from Jim Leonard and I thought it was an amazing opportunity.”
McKenzie brought the idea to Snyder principal Yvonne Waller, who also couldn’t believe her eyes and ears. Snyder usually gets passed over when it comes to generous gifts from the community, so Waller almost jumped at the opportunity.”
“It’s important for our kids to experience sports at another level,” said Yvonne Waller, the principal at Snyder. “It’s a chance for them to see sports in an entirely new light and give them a different understanding in sports. We were just ecstatic.”
It became even more of an excellent idea when Panasonic stepped forward and donated at least five state-of-the-art cameras for the students to use. The cameras have both video and still photography capabilities.
The students will learn from a host of photographers, including Denis Brodeur’s friend Bruce Bennett, a respected photographer in his own right.
The students will be taken to different sporting events, including Devils games, to shoot pictures that will eventually grace the walls of the Prudential Center.
“It’s huge to be able to inspire the young people of Jersey City,” Fulop said. “This program will shape these young people’s lives for a long time. It’s a great opportunity outside of school.”
And of course, there’s the element of the celebrity behind the whole program.
Martin Brodeur came to Jersey City last Monday, appearing at the Charlie Heger Ice Rink, to announce the inception of the Denis Brodeur Sports Photography program at Snyder High School.
The program is set to begin March 1.
“We really haven’t anything this hands on,” Waller said. “Our students will be able to tell a story through pictures and videos when high school moments become part of the narrative.”
Brodeur answered a few questions, then headed to the ice to take part in an hour-long clinic with selected youngsters. Brodeur, along with former teammates Bryce Salvador, Glenn “Chico” Resch, and Ken Daneyko took part in the hour-long clinic, all part of the celebration that will culminate in the raising of No. 30 to the roof Tuesday night, joining Daneyko, Scott Stevens and Scott Neidemayer as the only players to have their numbers retired by the club.
Martin Brodeur vividly recalls being an impromptu go-fer for his late father.
The photography program, which will be part of the school’s regular curriculum that will begin March 1 at all Jersey City schools, caught Brodeur totally by surprise.
“It came out of nowhere,” said Brodeur, who has been involved in a series of local activities tied into his jersey being hoisted to the rafters of the Prudential Center Tuesday. “I never expected it. I know he would be real proud. He made a great living through sports photography. Photography has always been a big part of my life, as well as my brothers and sisters. I’ve lived my life through pictures. If you went back to my old house [in Montreal], you’d see all the different things my Dad did on the walls. And you could see he was really good at it.”
Brodeur said that he was happy to have such a program honoring his father in New Jersey.
“New Jersey became my home,” said Brodeur, who also participated in a clinic with some of his former teammates involving nearly 100 youngsters. “I think this is pretty amazing. It’s a great honor for this program to be named after Dad.”
“The Devils have done a great job with this jersey celebration,” said Brodeur, who was to unveil a statue in his honor later Monday night. “In fact, they’re taking it to another level.”
Brodeur played 20 seasons with the Devils, leading the team to the Stanley Cup championship three times (1995, 2000 and 2003). Brodeur is the NHL’s all-time leader with 691 wins, 1,266 games played and 125 shutouts. He is currently the assistant general manager of the St. Louis Blues.
And now, his father’s memory and name will be forever remembered in Snyder High School of all places.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Waller said. “We don’t know what sports photography is going to do for the growth of the Snyder High School student, but it will give others the chance to experience the Snyder High School student first hand.”
Since re-districting took place a few years ago, Snyder has always been the high school for the arts in Jersey City – perhaps now more than ever.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.