When I was a kid, if you asked me who my “sports heroes” were, I would have immediately responded with Michael Jordan #1 and Ken Griffey Jr. #2. Jordan was unstoppable and is the undeniable GOAT. “The Kid” Griffey had one of the sweetest swings ever in the game of baseball, and his defense in center field was ridiculously good.
Years later, I have obviously made hockey my favorite sport to follow and the people that I would consider my sports heroes certainly have changed as well. Sure, guys like Kirill Kaprizov, Marc-Andre Fleury or Mats Zuccarello of the Minnesota Wild would be amazing to meet and have the chance to interview some day.
However, as I have gotten older, I have redefined who I would pick as my “heroes.” That brings me to a recent interview that I had with one of today’s sports heroes – not just of mine, but more importantly of kids from Minnesota, around the nation, and even Mexico.
Meredith Lang is the founder of the Hockey Niñas, a social media platform, to promote the game of hockey among girls of color who “have the same love for hockey that she did,” as Lang stated. I had the opportunity talk with Meredith this past weekend at a hockey tournament in Edina. Yes, Minnesota hockey tournaments in August. #stateofhockey
Lang played high school hockey herself as a winger for Richfield High School. Though she loved the game, Lang left hockey behind to concentrate on track and field. She excelled at the heptathlon so much so, that she gained an invitation to participate in the 2004 Olympic Trials.
Fast-forward a few years later, and she had two daughters, Mia and Aubrey, who wanted to play hockey, just as Meredith did. From her experiences in high school, Lang knew the challenges of being a girl of color in a predominately-white sport and so, her mission was set. She also knew what the game of hockey meant to her and therefore, she wanted her daughters to have the same experience (and better) and Lang realized “how it was needed for her kids.”
With the success of the Niñas, Meredith teamed up with Tina Kampa, a former blue-liner for Bemidji State University and the Minnesota Whitecaps. Together, Lang and Kampa formed Minnesota Unbounded which strives to “build a community within a community” of support for players of colors to play the sport that they love. As Lang said, she was the “first generation” of players of color, particularly girls and women, who love the game. As a result, she and Kampa needed help from corporate sponsors and community members.
Lang has realized that starting a grassroots organization of any kind takes commitment, sacrifice, and financial support from community partners. The cities of Bloomington and Richfield have supported the efforts and the vision of Unbounded by offering ice time at area ice rinks at a reduced cost. U.S. Bank, the Minnesota Wild and other corporate sponsors have also helped defray the costs of jerseys and other equipment.
With the help of their sponsors and the intense efforts of Lang and Kampa, Minnesota Unbounded has grown since its inception to offer a positive, inclusive hockey experience for over 50 players in a very short time. As an organization, Lang and Kampa have built a winner, being invited to participate in the 2022 NHL Winter Classic at Target Field, a shootout during a Minnesota Whitecaps game and the chance to meet Minnesota Wild Defenseman, Matt Dumba.
When asked what she still wants to accomplish in the game of hockey, Lang replied that she is “passionate about systemic change in hockey and how she can impact change within the game.” She added that she also wants to promote representation of players of color and help make hockey a “platform for change”. Lang has witnessed kids, who wouldn’t have otherwise considered playing hockey, develop a love and commitment for the game.
I asked Lang if her daughters realize the significance of her work with the Niñas and Unbounded? She replied by saying that they do somewhat, but she believes once they get older, they will really see that they, like their mom, were “trailblazers” in the game of hockey for girls/women of color.
Though she doesn’t necessarily seek to be in the spotlight, Lang has received major attention and recognition for her efforts thus far, and rightfully so. She has had interviews with ESPN, NHL.com, and major news stations in the Twin Cities area. The Niñas and Unbounded have been guests of the MN Wild and Whitecaps at home games, including the aforementioned NHL Winter Classic.
Even more impressive, Meredith was a finalist for the NHL’s Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award earlier this year. The award celebrates those exceptional people in the sport of hockey who have had a lasting, positive impact in the game, their community and/or the culture of hockey as a sport.
O’Ree made history in 1958 as the first black player in NHL history and played for the Boston Bruins. He is the Jackie Robinson of hockey and a Hockey Hall of Famer. Lang received a personal message from O’Ree himself, telling her that she was a finalist for his award. At the time, Lang was at the ice rink (where else would she be?) and she said that she was “in shock and disbelief” when she received his video message.
In a world where hate and division are becoming distressingly more common, it is people like Meredith Lang who spread joy, education, love and understanding to the youth of today. She inspires others to appreciate and value differences in people. She helps, not only her own daughters, but other girls/young women achieve what they may have never thought possible.
Lang has positively changed the hockey world, her community and the lives of many, many young girls of color and for that, she is a Minnesota hockey hero. For more information about Minnesota Unbounded, follow the link here. The Hockey Niñas and Minnesota Unbounded may also be found on social media. Best of luck, girls!!!! Thank you, Meredith!!