Michael Baitinger attended Lake Superior State University from 2002-2004. While at LSSU, he was involved as a member in both student government and Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE). The latter of is where he met some of his closest friends, and continues to attend annual TKE reunions in the Sault.
His connection to Lake State started while attending LSSU youth hockey camps run by former Coach Jeff Jackson. As he began to look into higher education, he knew he wanted a smaller university where he could gain more one on one experiences. Sault St. Marie was just far enough away from Detroit that it felt removed, but not too far, where he could still go home on a long weekend.
Michael has always had a love for the game of ice hockey. “Despite not being the most naturally gifted or driven player,” said Mike, he “found ways to stay involved in the sport and carve out a niche.” After coaching competitively for years, he began working with the hockey program at Clark Park in Southwest Detroit. The Clark Park Coalition is a non-profit organization existing to provide an array of diverse, high-quality recreational, educational, social and mentoring programs for southwest Detroit families promoting skill development which helps youth grow into responsible, self-confident adults.
As Covid-19 hit, Michael and a few of the coaches in the area felt they could be doing more and founded the Urban Hockey Foundation (UHF), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The UHF seeks to grow the game of ice hockey at a grass roots level by providing funding, mentorship & educational opportunities through ice hockey in non-traditional and diverse urban, underserved, and remote communities. Michael is currently the Executive Director of the Urban Hockey Foundation.
The UHF partners with organizations that align well with their mission statement to determine needs and how they may be of service. They also host multiple charity and fundraising events throughout the year, including an annual golf outing, games with the Michigan Warriors disabled veteran team, and the Michigan Far Flyers developmentally disabled team. Their flagship event is the annual traveling Duster Classic outdoor game. This year’s inner-squad scrum will be held in Buffalo, NY.
While working with the UHF, Michael connected with Scott Howe. Scott is the founder of an organization called the Friendship League. Michael and Scott quickly learned they were aligned well with similar mindsets and have been working together to grow the game both domestically and internationally.
Scott says, “the Friendship League is a tourism organization that harnesses the power of sport to foster genuine cross-cultural engagement between otherwise distant communities. Our team identifies sports organizations in unusual destinations that face unique barriers to growth in their communities due to a variety of factors, including a lack of equipment, opponents, and expertise. We then work together with these communities to organize an exchange with international sports enthusiasts (such as yourself) and develop a plan to support the sport’s growth locally.”
Currently the organization is searching for, and connecting with, the most isolated and remote ice hockey playing communities in the world. Once connected, the Friendship League will create a week-long international tournament within these host nations in which any individual or team can sign up.
The Friendship League has played hockey all over the world, including Kenya, North Korea, Egypt (the nation’s first ice hockey tournament), Ecuador, Mongolia, Turkmenistan and in Resolute Bay at the worlds northernmost ice hockey arena. According to Scott, “Our goal in the future is to put on 8-9 events per year and to sustain and provide regular support to programs in these communities for both youth and adult teams and participants.”
Coming up in late December, members from both the UHF and the Friendship League are travelling to Kenya to skate with the Kenya Ice Lions. They’ve secured partnerships with Warrior Sports and Renfrew Pro Hockey Tape to source and provide gear and other hockey assorted hockey items to the local Kenyan team. They’ve also raised significant monetary funds to help cover the cost of ice time, which remains a large barrier for entry to the game. Other upcoming planned trips include Mexico City in June 2023, South Africa, Nepal, and Morocco.
Michael had this to say in regards to the Friendship League, “I like to refer to what we do as ‘Beer League Diplomacy.’ Our only interest is growing the game, and spreading goodwill with ice hockey as the vehicle.”
Hockey playing experience is not required in order to participate in a trip with the Friendship League. “All interested individuals are able to attend these trips and events as a participant OR a spectator,” said Michael. “Everything from the true beginner learning how to skate to former pro players can, and have, participated. The only requirement is to have a positive mindset and the right attitude.”
For more information related to the Urban Hockey Foundation, visit https://urbanhockeyfoundation.org/.
For more information related to the Friendship League, visit https://friendshipleague.org/.