Breaking the Ice
Feb. 7, 2009
As the old adage goes, if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Although challenged by the traditional stereotypes of sport, Scooter Vaughan has proven time and again that he is no exception to the rule.
A native of Placentia, Calif., Vaughan grew up just miles away from where the National Hockey League's Anaheim Mighty Ducks fueled a growing interest in the Golden State's recreational culture. Only five years old at the time, Vaughan was among many youths to catch the wave of excitement and decided to enter a roller hockey league. From the moment he strapped on his first pair of skates, his future began to unfold.
Four years later, Vaughan made the transition from wheels to blades when he began playing for the Junior Ducks. With the cross over, Vaughan transformed into a rare breed of ice hockey players hailing from California; but his origins were not the only quality to distinguish Vaughn from his peers. Unlike any teammate he would meet until his late prep school years, Vaughan was African-American. But if one were to ask him or anyone who watched him play, they would say on the ice, Vaughan looked like a duck in water.
Breaking the ice into a new era of sport, hockey is where Vaughan belonged.
When the NCAA Frozen Four came to Anaheim in 1999, Vaughan was among the hopeful spectators at Arrowhead Pond. Whether he knew it or not at the time, Vaughan caught a glimpse into his future that April; and in the true nature of spring, his dreams of playing collegiate hockey were born.
At age 10, Vaughan attended a clinic in Anaheim where he met Willie O'Ree, who 51 years ago became the first African-American hockey player to appear in the NHL. Although at the time his youth kept him from realizing the significance of the meeting, today, Vaughan appreciates the greater meaning underlying the unique encounter.
"Looking back, it was a great experience and I am proud to have met someone who had such a great influence on the game for African-Americans," said Vaughan.
A member of the St. Louis Bandits, Vaughan aided his team to the North American Hockey League Championship in 2007. An all-tournament honoree, it was not long before the tenacious defenseman earned a scholarship to the University of Michigan, where as a freshman, he helped the Wolverines to the semifinals of the 2008 Frozen Four.
Although Vaughan and O'Ree have helped break hockey's color barrier, the two athletes share an even greater resemblance that may not meet the eye. Like O'Ree in his early career, for Vaughan, being a pioneer is not the point.
"I don't really look at it that way," Vaughan said. "I like playing the sport and I'm glad to be fortunate enough to do it. I don't consider myself to be a black hockey player. I'm just another kid playing hockey."
Still, history has proven that whenever a person challenges the norm they are often met with adversity. Vaughan is no exception. As he skated through various levels of hockey, Vaughan endured racial affronts, stereotypes and skepticism. But Vaughan would not allow the power of words to thwart his dreams as he relied on his talent and work ethic to speak for itself.
"There are challenges to every aspect in life, so playing hockey for me is no different," said Vaughan. "When I go out there on the ice there can be the occasional slurs, which can be tough. But I try not to think about that kind of stuff too much and I don't let it degrade me as a hockey player. I just go out there and work as hard as I can."
One of 12 freshmen to join the Wolverine squad in 2007, Vaughan has been cementing his place on the blue line since the start of his initial campaign. His unwavering determination and consummate skating ability has earned him scholarships in each of his first two seasons, including the Red Berenson Scholarship in 2007 and the Richard and Kathryn Yarmain Scholarship in 2008.
Today, the young sophomore describes the 2008 Frozen Four as his most memorable experience to date with the Maize and Blue. Still, he will forever remember skating into Yost Ice Arena in the signature winged helmet for the first time, recalling that perhaps it was more than just the ice that gave him chills.
"The tradition at Michigan is unbelievable," said Vaughan. "There is something about putting on that winged helmet and that jersey every day. It's a real honor."
In his first semester in Ann Arbor, Vaughan enrolled in a history of U-M class which incorporated a chronicle of Michigan hockey tradition entitled Blue Ice. As he read the account, Vaughan began to consider the unwritten chapter of Wolverine hockey history and his role in it. While he realizes he is one of the few African-Americans to have played in the program, Vaughan has high hopes that exceed the changing face of the game. At the end of the day, he is still part of a team that aspires to a greater goal - one that cannot be measured by color. As he continues to pursue his collegiate career, Vaughan acknowledges there is only one ultimate way to stamp himself into Michigan Hockey lore.
"Most important, I hope to be part of a national championship," said Vaughan. "I am proud to be an African-American representing Michigan hockey, but hopefully I'm out there for an even larger purpose."