Nova Scotia

'Stay strong Mark!': P.E.I. class rallies for goalie who stood up to racism

A Grade 4 class in South Rustico, P.E.I., shared letters of support with Mark Connors last week, and got to meet the 16-year-old goalie in a video meeting. 

Grade 4 class in South Rustico meets hockey hero in video call

The South Rustico class was very excited to talk to Mark Connors. (CBC)

A Grade 4 class in South Rustico, P.E.I., shared letters of support with Mark Connors last week, and got to connect with the 16-year-old goalie in a video meeting. 

Connors, who plays with the Halifax Hawks U18 AA team, was the target of racist taunts and threats at a hockey tournament in Charlottetown in late November

The Grade 4 students at École St-Augustin wrote the letters for their English class with teacher Susan Shive. 

"I'm originally from Nova Scotia, and I moved to P.E.I., and I love the Island. And I think there's a lot of good people here, and I just felt a bit sad. So I thought maybe we could do something," Shive said. 

'We support you'

The handwritten letters, some of them illustrated, were both outraged and apologetic. 

"Hi Mark #31, what happened to you was not acceptable. Stay strong Mark!!!" wrote Aila Douglas.

"I'm so sorry that happened to you. I may not play hockey but I do know that hockey is for everyone and I have no tolerance for racism," wrote Océanne Blanchard. "We support you and I hope you don't think P.E.I. is like that."

"Ringette is what I play," wrote Lexie Callahan. "Please tell me, how do you stay calm and not attack them? I completely support you. I am number 9 and I am a Rustico player." 

The students had a chance to meet Connors Thursday via a video call. Connors thanked the children profusely for their messages. 

He answered Callahan's question about not retaliating against his abusers. 

"I'm not worrying about what they're saying, honestly, because as a goalie you try to be more focused about the game and not really about what they're saying," he told her. 

"Racism does hurt, though." 

Mark Connors is a goaltender with the Halifax Hawks. (Wayne Connors)

The students also got to ask Connors questions, learning he has played hockey for 10 years, that he was always in goal, and that his astrological sign is gemini. 

Shive thinks speaking to Connors was significant for her students.

"He seemed very at ease and very friendly," she said. "And I think to actually see the person who received those letters will make a more lasting impact on the students." 

The Halifax Hawks sent the class a package of anti-racism decals emblazoned with Connors's number, 31. 

The students promised to wear them proudly.

"We'll continue to press the message of inclusion, and that sports are for everyone," Shive said. 

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.