This Mother’s Day, Cynthia Wardlaw is looking forward to relaxing at her home on Detroit’s west side, where she also hopes to spend some special moments — in one form or another — with her three adult children and four grandchildren.
When asked if there is anything else that could add to her day, Wardlaw confided that a nice steak or lamb chops would be nice, too.
But hours before Wardlaw bites into anything hot and juicy, she will be as close to a cold, thick sheet of ice as one can come during the month of May. At the same time, she will be surrounded by a group of local youths that draw strength and joy from skates and sticks. Such is life for the 51-year-old Wardlaw, the vice president and program manager for Detroit Ice Dreams, a 501c3 nonprofit committed to exposing more children from Detroit and metro Detroit neighborhoods to sports performed on the ice, particularly hockey, by making the sports more accessible and affordable.
“I love seeing the children on the ice,” said Wardlaw, who proudly proclaims that she is a “hockey mom for life” and has been with Detroit Ice Dreams since its inception in 2014. “We’re not a family in blood, but all of the children in the program are my kids. They all call me ‘Ms. Cynthia’ and we are family.”
During the week before Mother’s Day, Wardlaw planned to spend significant time, including on Saturday, with her ice family at the Jack Adams Memorial Arena, 10500 Lyndon St., which also is near Wardlaw’s home. She described the time spent as a labor of love, minus the “labor” part because she would never call what she does with the kids “work.”
“Mother’s Day is every day for me, as I try my best to be the best mom to my children and my hockey babies with each interaction I have with them,” said Wardlaw, who also has worked as a nurse. “Through the Detroit Ice Dreams there is a lot of camaraderie; long-lasting friendships; and, it lets our Detroit and metro Detroit children know that they can experience anything. Experiencing something different is very important for our children. To find out what you’re going to be great at, you need to try different things. You may find that you love something that you have never been exposed to before. But you won’t know until you try.”
As it turns out, “exposure” has been a constant theme throughout Wardlaw’s hockey journey, even before the creation of Detroit Ice Dreams.
“My son (Devin, 28) probably wouldn’t want me to tell this, but I had my children in figure skating and a coach saw my son and said I should let him play hockey,” said Wardlaw, recalling a moment when Devin was 9 or 10. “All of the hockey players I had ever seen didn’t have any teeth, so I told that coach that my son wasn’t going to play hockey — my son is cute!”
The coach that extended the invitation at Jack Adams was affiliated with the Detroit Hockey Association. And at some point, Wardlaw says, the invitation was accepted. And it was the beginning of a love affair —- with hockey.
“My son fell in love with the game and so did I,” Wardlaw said proudly. “The program was really good for my son, it helped him become a leader. I was a single parent and the program provided an opportunity for my son to be with other males and have male role models and mentors.”
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A love for hockey even extended to Wardlaw’s youngest daughter, Kamille Scarbrough, who took to the ice at just 5 years old. By 14, even as her mother continued to expose her to other activities, hockey was Scarbrough’s top choice. However, around that same time, the grassroots hockey landscape in Detroit suddenly changed.
“The hockey program that my children had been in dissolved,” Wardlaw said. “It had benefited my son so much, and so many other children, and my daughter was just really getting started in hockey. More than playing the game, hockey teaches valuable life lessons. The children fall on the ice, just like you’re going to fall in life, but you get up. And the teamwork hockey teaches, you need that to work a job. So I wanted to do something so that there still would be an opportunity for kids to play in the city of Detroit.”
Desperately feeling the need to make a move that would benefit youths throughout the area, Wardlaw says she received an enormous hockey assist from a familiar face.
“I sought out Jason (McCrimmon) because he had skated at Jack Adams, beginning as a kid, and he had already been a mentor to my son and daughter,” Wardlaw said. “I knew he was someone who cared and he’s been a blessing in my life.”
McCrimmon would take Wardlaw’s call and proceed to show exactly how much he cared — more through actions than words — as he founded Detroit Ice Dreams.
“I’ve been here since I was 3 years old, and Cynthia was very strong with the Detroit Hockey Association program, her son even played junior hockey for me,” McCrimmon said Wednesday, while seated in the Jack Adams bleachers. “So when I got that phone call, I think me and Cynthia met the next day, or within three or four days, and we put it together and got things rolling. It’s all about us being able to do something different and being a positive influence for kids in the city of Detroit. And I think that motivates us and the program today to continue to be unique and community-based.”
Wearing a windbreaker with a Red Wings logo on Wednesday, the 6-foot-4 McCrimmon, the pride of Mackenzie High School (Class of 2000), still resembled in some ways the hockey player who was good enough to play collegiately at UMass-Boston before playing professionally overseas. However, instead of reliving his days as a high-scoring defenseman and captain for a team in Finland, McCrimmon wanted to make known the role motherly influences have played in his life.
“Barbara Nelson, my mom, is the reason why I play hockey. But also Stamina Brooks, Jennifer Poole, Edna Walker, Noreen Adams, they were all part of the ‘moms club’ that supported me growing up,” said McCrimmon, who also is a youth ambassador for the Detroit Red Wings. “I’ve been very fortunate to have a strong support system and I’m very fortunate to have Cynthia right now; and very fortunate that Cynthia reached out, as we continue to build on what we have done in the past.”
During Wednesday’s practice session at Jack Adams, members of the Detroit Ice Dreams family conveyed that they are more than happy about what has been done in the past by the program. In addition to providing coaching and competition, the program reduces the cost for youths (ages 3 to 17) to participate in hockey through a variety of means, including sponsoring youths from families with financial need and providing a complete set of equipment to program participants on a loaner basis.
“In the beginning, it was my mom wanting to try something new because there aren’t that many Black kids playing hockey. So when we saw an opportunity, we did take it. And once I started, it was something I enjoyed,” said Jalin Hill, a 10th grade, honor roll student at Renaissance High School and an aspiring criminal defense attorney, who has been with the program since its inception. “And without Ms. Cynthia, honestly, this all wouldn’t be possible. She does a lot of the behind-the-scenes things, like scheduling the games and communicating with the parents about practice. She plays a huge role in this program.”
Tyler Moore, an honor roll ninth grade student at the School at Marygrove, said he got involved with Detroit Ice Dreams because of friendships that have continued to grow.
“My best friend Jovonn started and I found the program through him, and I just started liking it. And now I’ve made a bunch of friends because of this program,” said Moore, who wants to own a tech company in the future to “improve the world.”
Moore’s mother, Tiffany, said she appreciates how Detroit Ice Dreams, as a program, has consistently taken care of her son and the community, which has included feeding homeless people; distributing holiday meals to families in need, and back-to-school rallies where Detroit students have received backpacks loaded with school supplies.
“No matter what’s happening — it doesn’t matter if we’re dealing with COVID, or if the kids win or lose a game — this has always felt like family,” said Tiffany Moore, who has been connected to the program for the past five years. “They always do different types of outreach programs to keep the team together — no matter the age of the kid. And the program is always trying to do things in the community.
“And Ms. Cynthia is one of the most selfless people I know. It doesn’t matter how she feels, or where her health is at. No matter what her other obligations are, she is always trying to help them with this program. It’s been times when she has been at the hospital with her father and she’s sending out messages reminding people of what needs to be done for the program. Whatever it takes, she gets it done. She’s such a beautiful spirit.”
On May 1, Tiffany and Tyler Moore made the trek to Adrian College’s commencement ceremonies to be with Wardlaw as her now 21-year-old daughter Kamille Scarbrough received her diploma. Wednesday evening, the four hooked up again; this time at Jack Adams, as Scarbrough began mapping out her plan to attract more girls to the program. But before that plan is launched, Scarbrough (who, along with her brother Devin, has an older sister Bionca Wardlaw, 33) says she looks forward to expressing her gratitude to her mother on Sunday.
“Hockey has given me experiences that I wouldn’t trade for the world,” said Scarbrough, who played hockey collegiately at Adrian while earning a bachelor of arts degree in biology. “I was able to have those experiences because my mom always wanted the best for us. She always put us in many different sports and took us wherever we needed to go. She never really had time for herself, but that didn’t matter because she was always taking us to do things that we wanted to do. And she still does that even now.
“She still comes here (Jack Adams Arena) multiple times during the week to help kids experience what her kids experienced, because she saw the growth that we had from it and she wants other kids to have that growth. So on Mother’s Day, she deserves to have anything she wants. And I hope I can make her happy.”
Hockey for All!
What: Detroit Ice Dreams
Mission: A 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to promoting and subsidizing ice-related sports, mainly hockey, across Detroit and metro Detroit. Programming and activities target youths ages 3 to 17 and focus on recreation; social, mentoring and academic support; and community involvement.
Key Staff: Jason McCrimmon, founder and president; Cynthia Wardlaw, vice president and program manager
Base of Operations: Jack Adams Memorial Arena, 10500 Lyndon St., Detroit 48238
Upcoming Activity: May 14 end-of-the-season event, outside of Jack Adams Memorial Arena, featuring hockey-related giveaways, music, games and activities targeting the roughly 60 youths that participated during the 2021-22 Detroit Ice Dreams season. Jason McCrimmon also has extended an invitation to everyone affiliated with the Adams Butzel Complex and to youths throughout Detroit.
Scott Talley is a native Detroiter, a proud product of Detroit Public Schools and lifelong lover of Detroit culture in all of its diverse forms. In his second tour with the Free Press, which he grew up reading as a child, he is excited and humbled to cover the city’s neighborhoods and the many interesting people who define its various communities. Contact him at: [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @STalleyfreep. Read more of Scott’s stories at www.freep.com/mosaic/detroit-is/.