So Abercrombie discovered himself in gymnastics, swimming, violin, ice skating — “activities that weren’t the norm for a Black boy,” he stated.
As a end result, it wasn’t the streets that took her oldest boy final week. It used to be the National Hockey League.
“Right now, I’m dreaming with my eyes open,” stated the Toronto Maple Leafs new coaching construction affiliate, who joined a handful of Black coaches in the NHL. He fulfilled the #NHLBOUND hashtag he hooked up to all his communications, the line he put in allcaps on his résumé: “MY GOAL IS TO COACH IN THE NHL”
Coach Neal Henderson cried when Abercrombie known as to inform him. He cried once more after I known as him.
“It’s a dream and a pleasure,” stated Henderson, who’s now 85 and getting able for his forty fifth season working the hockey program that were given Abercrombie began, and, he stated, stored his lifestyles — the Fort Dupont Cannons.
“I told Duante’ he would go far when I met him,” Henderson stated. “He was 6 years old. I used to carry him around in my hands around the ice to teach him how to skate and how to stand.”
Henderson used to be the first Black guy elected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2019 for his function in founding and working the Fort Dupont Cannons. It’s the country’s longest-running, minority-oriented hockey staff and has proven hundreds of D.C. children that sure, they may be able to be the rest — even what they may be able to’t see.
Abercrombie is now there for all of them to look — the Black boy who couldn’t skate when he were given to the rink; now coaching execs in North America’s hockeyland.
“I want to be there for them to know they belong, they deserve to have as many opportunities as the other players around them,” he stated, remembering how onerous it used to be for him to imagine his skill and power used to be sufficient as he shared locker rooms filled with White avid gamers who were on trip groups, who educated with particular coaches and did summer season clinics. All he had used to be the unfastened program in the town.
“Look at me,” he stated. “This is possible. I want kids to ask me, ‘what was it like when I was 10? When I was 15?’ ”
Abercrombie’s mother took him to the Fort Dupont Ice Arena’s unfastened discover ways to skate program when he used to be 6. Skating is messy your first few occasions, the wobbles, the ones insane knives you’re intended to face on, the rainy garments in spite of everything the falls. It wasn’t love to start with wipeout for Duante’.
But proper after his lesson, the younger boy watched the hockey staff take the ice.
“They were moving so fast, the puck was flying,” he remembered. “What is this magical thing that’s happening on the ice?”
His mother, after all, marched instantly as much as the entrance table and requested them if there used to be any means her little boy may be informed this insane game. And the entrance table presented her to Henderson.
“If it wasn’t for Coach Neal, for Fort Dupont those Monday and Wednesday nights, when he was my dad, who knows what would’ve happened to me?” stated Abercrombie, who didn’t know his father rising up.
He recalls waking up Saturday mornings — his mother had a cosmetology license — to a space filled with ladies getting their hair completed. She labored onerous to have the funds for all the particular methods and personal faculties that she despatched Duante’ and his little brother, Devan, to.
Henderson recalls that Abercrombie used to be athletically gifted, however extra importantly, “he was a highly coachable kid.
“He was always asking for more,” Henderson stated. “Asking me for more ways to do something better: ‘Is this the way to make myself skate faster?’ ‘Is this the way to hold my stick better?’ ”
His time with the Cannons propelled Abercrombie to Gonzaga College High School, the all-boys Jesuit college with a fierce hockey program. When he toured it, a lot of the campus used to be below renovation, scaffolding and forums, not anything as entire as the different faculties. And that appealed to him, understanding he can also be a part of “what it’s going to become.”
He helped lead the hockey staff to 4 Maryland Student Hockey League/Mid-Atlantic Prep Hockey League championships. Then he performed 3 seasons professionally in New Zealand, in addition to in New York and Pittsburgh. Most of the time, he used to be the best Black participant in the locker room, in the enviornment. He may outscore and outskate others, however he needed to stay convincing them he used to be critical.
When he turned into a dad, he knew it used to be a great time to begin his lifestyles as a trainer. And he coached in the neighborhood, the Little Caps, Georgetown Prep, particular person classes and clinics.
He turned into considered one of 4 black coaches in NCAA hockey when he used to be employed as an NCAA assistant trainer at Stevenson University in Pikesville, Md.
But he nonetheless had that purpose, #NHLBOUND. So when a coaching activity opened in Toronto in May, he were given the résumé able and spent the entire summer season sweating, even in the ones chilly ice rinks, ready to listen to again.
He moved to Toronto final week.
It felt proper to go to Canada. It’s the place Henderson realized to play hockey whilst his father used to be stationed there as a Merchant Marine right through World War II.
It’s the place Graeme Townshend, the first Jamaican-born hockey participant to compete in the NHL, who as soon as coached for the Leafs, took Abercrombie to the public housing complicated the place he used to be raised, after his circle of relatives moved to Canada. It used to be Townshend — who took satisfaction in speaking a few difficult upbringing — who satisfied Abercrombie to get again in contact together with his dad, who since were given out of jail.
“He showed me that he grew up in the projects and ended up coaching at the Leafs,” Duante’ stated. “He showed me it can be done.”
Now that’s he’s accomplished the hashtag, what’s subsequent?
“I want to be a head coach on that bench,” he stated. “And I want my name on that Stanley Cup four times. The dream keeps changing. It has to.”