ODENTON, Md. — Standing almost six feet tall, Divyne Apollon II rises above everyone on his hockey team.
On the ice he's always been the biggest.
Most times he's the strongest.
At a recent tournament it took all of his strength to be the bigger man.
“I knew it was something that's going to happen at some point. But, I didn't know it was going to happen this early,” he said.
Divyne was targeted because of his race.
“As it got closer to the middle of the game, where it was tied up and everything like that, that's when I heard the monkey noises,” he added.
With monkey noises.
It happened during a game against a team from Pennsylvania, the Old York Road Raiders.
It wasn't the first time for the 13-year-old defenseman.
“A week before that we were playing a team from Hagerstown and that's where my dad was saying he heard the N-word and the chants about getting off the ice and playing basketball,” added Apollon II.
“I had to take a second to calm myself,” said Divyne’s head coach Brad Howington. “I went to the bathroom, put some water on my face. I had to recollect myself. Being a black player myself, I grew up having things like this happen to me.”
Divyne wouldn't let the negativity get to him.
“I know they're doing it just to get in my head and try and seem like they're the better player even though they're not because they are doing those things,” he said. “So, I sort of just brush it off and keep on going.”
As he kept going, skating stride by stride, his team rallied slogan by slogan.
“I just thought we have to do something more than say 'This is so awful. We're sorry this happened.',” said hockey mom Tammi Lynch.
Divyne suits up for the Metro Maple Leafs 14-under team. They skate out of Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton.
Lynch is the mom of one of his teammates.
When she went back to her Ellicott City home after the game she came up with a design: Hockey greater than hate.
T-shirts were made.
Stickers and buttons too.
They were put on players' helmets and sticks for the next game.
Said Lynch: “When Divyne and his dad walked into the game that night the look on their faces was…”
“I was like 'Wow'. And I looked up and the parents are sitting up and they all had them on their chest,” said Divyne Apollon (Divyne's dad) . “I was like 'Oh'. I was really shocked. I was like 'Okay. That's great.'”
On the ice Divyne's team had his back.
Off the ice the Stanley Cup champs did too. The Washington Capitals extended a special invite.
“Hey Metro Maple Leafs. We heard about the unfortunate incidents that have been taking place with Divyne. But we were so happy to see your team stand up to defend and support each other,” said Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly, who is also black, in a video message to the team.
The Caps had the squad to a game and invited them inside the postgame locker room. There Divyne met his favorite player, Alex Ovechkin.
He even got a signed stick from the Caps captain.
“He said I hope you guys do good and he gave me the stick,” said Apollon II.
His dream of meeting Ovechkin had some true.
Divyne also had some words for the kids who taunted him.
“Well, I guess they’re pretty angry at home right now because they didn’t get to meet O.V. (Ovechkin) because of their actions.”
Taking a page out of the Caps’ playbook, Divyne’s Maple Leafs team has started giving back to the community.
Each Saturday and some Sundays they make their way to Patterson Park Ice Rink in Baltimore City to volunteer and teach kids how to skate.
Last weekend they even scrimmaged the Baltimore Banners, a team made up of kids from East Baltimore.
“It feels pretty good because it’s an all-black team that really doesn’t get to play anybody,” said Apollon II.
“They usually don’t get a lot of people coming to see them play,” added Banners coach Antoine Green. “This is one of the first times they ever get a lot of people here.”
“The situation that happened, I don’t like it at all. Because, look at me. I’m the same skin complexion as him,” said 17-year-old Banners player Daryl Fletcher.
“Today, I’m honored to go against them. To see him, and what he’s going through, against us, that’s everything,” added 19-year-old Banners player Robert Keene. “It shows a statement. We’re who we are. We can do what we want.”
Hockey is greater than hate.
Sports supersedes racial animosity.
Team tops prejudice.
Howington never thought so much good would happen after something that’s so horrible.
“No. Because it’s something you see it happen. It’s not as well known as it should be. But it’s been happening for so long and I actually didn’t think anything was going to happen out of this,” he said. “But, to have so much support come out of it and so much awareness come out of it is just phenomenal. Everybody is finally taking a stand and saying this is not right.”
Divyne Apollon II rises above the hate.
He rises above the racism.
“To do the right thing and not to really be mean about it and use those racial things. And if you enjoy the game just keep on playing.”
Divyne’s team says he’s become the face of a movement to eradicate racism in hockey.
Their website, playersagainsthate.org, has a page selling their buttons and stickers. The proceeds from the sales go toward a scholarship for players of color to play hockey and increase diversity in the sport.