James Fields plays chauffeur. On winter mornings, sleepy hockey players are greeted at the curb by his naturally caffeinated smile so Fields can drive them to DinoMights practice at Minnehaha Academy.
On the ice, the 25-year-old drapes his arm over the shoulder of a frustrated player. Fields promises the youngster that if he keeps sweating, that if he loves hockey, it’ll reciprocate.
He would know. Fields played for DinoMights. Advertised as “Hockey in the Hood,” the nonprofit caters to Minneapolis kids in the Phillips, Powderhorn, and Central neighborhoods. It uses the sport as a vehicle for empowerment.
DinoMights shaped Fields, who would become a staffer. For a young boy, it gifted a trinity of truths: fun, love, hard work. But Fields doesn’t just preach. He lives it.
Founded in 1995, DinoMights outfits players with gear and covers ice-time expenses. Most of its players would never play hockey otherwise. The kids also have access to academic tutors. The threads of spiritual awareness and living through good deeds connect everything. In this case, hockey serves as the medium for physical well-being. It’s a classroom for life. Private donations and grants fund 80 percent of the roughly $300,000 annual costs.
The kids aren’t merely Fields’ job, says volunteer David Cole. Their struggles are his struggles, their successes the same. Fields avails himself 24/7. If a player is in need of extra coaching, he’s there. If life’s stresses are bringing a player down and he’s in need of a trusting ear, Fields is there.
“James has such positive energy, both on and off the ice,” Cole says. “On top of that, he’s been through it. He understands where they are at this point in their journeys, and works with them in all facets of their lives by giving them a tremendous amount of love.”
When Fields was a kid, his mom, Phyllis, couldn’t always be around. The single parent of three was at work providing. A lack of cash meant the family sometimes bounced from apartment to apartment.
Fields couldn’t skate when he started as a DinoMight. He kept at it. Hockey taught him that hard work pays off.
“Playing for DinoMights, I felt like I belonged,” he says. “It taught me to be a man.”
DinoMights served almost 400 kids last year. Its players have a high school graduation rate of 85 percent.
“If I can affect these kids in any way,” says Fields, “it’s to show them they can do any hard thing in life, whether it’s being a good player or graduating high school. Pretty much everything that was given to me, I want to recycle back.”