On a day off from their grueling pre-season practices and workouts, most hockey fans would expect Brooks Laich, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom to take a break. Instead, these star players for the Washington Capitals recently joined over 200 volunteers in Alexandria to build a playground – and give the children of the community a fun reason to get outside and exercise.
The experience naturally evoked childhood memories for the Capitals players. Speaking with On Tap, Capitals veteran center Laich mentioned that as a kid, “I liked the monkey rings and the bars, but my hometown has 600 people, so we didn’t have a whole lot.” The Capitals’ assistant captain mused, “You were reduced to using a tree or a mud puddle for your playground.”
Backstrom, also an alternate captain for the Capitals, recalled that his favorite playground memories were of the slides – and also stressed the importance playgrounds have in kids’ health. “It’s good for kids to be outside. I think nowadays it’s only computers and video games, where you’re just inside, sitting down – it’s good to do exercise and be outside on the playground.”
Over 200 volunteers joined the Caps players at Hopkins-Tancil Court in Old Town Alexandria to construct the new playground. Also instrumental in the day’s success were the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to saving play, and So Kids Can, a charity co-founded by Caps defenseman Mike Green and Elliot Segal, host of DC101’s “Elliot in the Morning.” During the 2011-12 hockey season, Green and Segal worked together to raise funds for the playground’s construction, and have raised a total of over $200,000 since founding So Kids Can in 2008.
Brooks Laich was quick to recognize the sweat equity that went into this project. “The volunteers were incredible! I mean, there were two-hundred-plus people there that just volunteered their time and effort and worked – some people were there from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.” Food for the volunteers was donated by Bugsy’s, an Old Town pizzeria owned by retired Caps defenseman Bryan “Bugsy” Watson. Laich continued, “There are so many more people who should be recognized that aren’t; there’s Liz Wodach for our team, who did an amazing job. She’s the one behind getting all of our guys out into the community, and she deserves a big ‘thank you’.”
This trip to Alexandria was just one day in the Capitals’ long history of supporting community organizations. During the last season, Caps fans donated over 2,400 pounds of food and over $11,000 to support the Food Bank’s fight to end hunger, and defenseman John Carlson joined them to pack over 1,200 bags for the Food Bank’s Weekend Bag program, which augments DC’s school lunch program by providing children with nutritious food for the weekend.
On the playground in Alexandria, one thing became clear quickly: the Caps players were not merely on hand to glad-hand fans and pose for photo ops. “We did a little bit of everything, but it was fun,” said Backstrom. Laich explained that their duties included assembling the playground apparatus, carrying and spreading mulch, pouring cement, and digging holes for park benches to sit in.
During the car ride home from Alexandria, Laich remarked to Backstrom and Green “that was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done – I mean, you see the kids flying off the bus, ready to get there.” Reflecting on the experience the next day, Laich admitted “I feel bad for them now, because there’s a chain-link fence around [the playground] for the next couple of days while the cement dries, but they’re gonna love it.”
Were he or his teammates allowed to operate any of the heavy machinery? “We weren’t,” admitted Laich with a laugh. “I could, but … I don’t know if they’d trust our other guys with it.”
The S.T.A.R.S Playground opened officially on September 16.