Early on a Wednesday morning during the bleak Minnesota winter, stick-wielding children of various ethnicities gather at center ice in a south Minneapolis hockey arena; they await their coach's instructions before an hour-long practice.

Before the pucks drop to the ice, however, another tradition begins. The players and their coach drop to one knee and invite God to join them. They pray for protection, for good sportsmanship, and for healing of an injured or sick player. A chorus of amens reverberates in the chilled air, and hockey drills begin.

Such invocations are an anomaly in a sport known more for fistfights than divine petitions—about as common as ethnic minorities skating in the traditionally white sport. The racial diversity and prayer of these teams, however, grew naturally out of the concern of John Foley, then a youth pastor, to motivate inner-city kids to improve their grades and future prospects.

Breaking the ice ceiling

To play in the DinoMights "Hockey in the 'Hood" youth development program, students must meet minimum grade standards and attendance quotas. Some 60 players, ages 7 to 15, play on four different teams—two for boys, one for girls, and one for both.

"I just wanted to do something a little different," says Foley, who directs the DinoMights program. "As weird as hockey in the 'hood sounded, I knew the younger kids would get fired up and feel they were part of something special."

The DinoMights are attempting to break the "ice ceiling" of an international sport identified as a white game. One-quarter of the DinoMights are white, half are African-American, and the remainder are Latino, Asian, or Native American.

This contrasts sharply with the Twin Cities Youth Hockey District, in which nearly nine-tenths ...

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