As the top-ranked Blake Bears prepare to face the third-ranked Edina Hornets in a Hockey Day Minnesota match-up this Saturday at 4 p.m., Blake Ice Arena will have all eyes on it as the game itself provides plenty of intrigue.
The Bears are the defending Class A champion the last two years and have captured four of the last five state championships. They have not lost a game since Dec. 22, 2016, to Eden Prairie and have moved up to the Class AA without missing a beat. They have held the top ranking much of the season in the Let’s Play Hockey poll. Edina is the defending state Class AA champion and opened the season ranked No. 1.
The game represents more than a top 10 match-up and potential Section 6AA final preview that can be seen live on StateOfHockey.com. Along with this game comes an incredible effort off the ice by the Bears’ team, who along with the opposing Hornets, are generating awareness to the issue of combating sex trafficking.
The effort began with last year’s Blake team and has carried on to impressive levels this year as they have raised an astounding $112,000.
“We have a class at Blake called Global Local and they have the job of picking an issue,” junior Grace Vojta said. “With that, our friends picked sex trafficking and they wanted to increase awareness around the real problem that there is in the state of Minnesota.”
Led by senior CC Wallin and juniors Olivia Bizal, Maddie Tix and Vojta, the Bears began intensifying their efforts to both create awareness and raise funds. Their goal was to work around the time of the Super Bowl being held at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis this year, as sex trafficking spikes during events such as that.
“There was a group of four seniors last year and they showed the movie ‘I Am Jane Doe,’” Bizal said. “All of us who were there realized how big of a problem it was. One of our teammates was in that group and we talked to her about taking it over after she graduated.”
“Living in Minnesota, we think nothing bad happens, that it’s a pleasant state, we have hockey rivalries, but that’s the largest bit of contention,” Vojta said. “I would say what really shocked us was that Minneapolis was in the top 15 cities in the nation for sex trafficking and we just wanted to take a stand against that issue.”
Globally 4.5 million people are forced into sexual exploitation each year, and in the United States, 100,000 children are exploited in prostitution each year. The Twin Cities ranks 13th among U.S. cities with a high rate of child prostitution occurring. Girls are victimized through abduction, through parents or through parent sex-trafficker agreements.
Fundraising and awareness are essential to the effort with Blake’s endeavor beginning with the creation of a GoFundMe page, followed by a key brunch that was held at Vojta’s home. Vojta explained that the group began challenging corporations with an email outlining the issue and suggested that if they are interested in attacking the issue, they were invited to attend the brunch to learn more about the issue. It was at the brunch where the group had one-on-one opportunities to work with potential donors and the group asked them to make contributions with members of Hennepin County and the Women’s Foundation in attendance.
Representatives from the Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Breck, Edina, Orono and Wayzata girls’ hockey teams also attended the brunch with amplification being key to efforts such as this. Wallin noted that it is beginning to spread beyond just girls’ teams.
“We have raised a lot of money,” Wallin said. “I think what is really cool is that we are getting other hockey teams to be involved. Not just girls, we had our boys’ team, who we sent out a tweet and made a video about how we Minnesota girls are not for sale.They are starting to respond to that, too, and I think that is really great.”
Tix added that they communicated their goals at the brunch with the stated goal being prevention and targeting of perpetrators.
“We did a bunch of fundraisers and had a brunch at Grace’s house,” she said. “We had a presentation on what we learned. We talked about what we were doing, what we were each doing individually, and what our bigger goal is, especially around the Super Bowl.”
Wallin wants to see the effort continue after she graduates with more boys’ teams being involved.
“One thing we want to reiterate was yes, our project was to raise money for the Super Bowl, but we want to extend past that,” she said. “We want the awareness to continue.”
Funds raised are planned to make a direct impact. “The two major sides of our issue will be the fundraising and the issue of awareness,” Vojta said. “From the fundraising side, you can see the tangible improvements right away, so 100,000 of those dollars are going to the DA of Hennepin County so that they can hire a private investigator to directly combat the issue of sex trafficking. As far as the awareness goes, the more teams, the more people we get involved, even if it keeps one person out of the life of sex trafficking, we will consider that a win.”
According to Tix, anything raised beyond $100,000 will be donated to the Women’s Foundation that is supporting the victims of sex trafficking as they are raising awareness. The Blake team’s efforts are not done and continue during the game with Edina.
“Our game on Saturday, all the proceeds will be going to the Women’s Foundation and that includes ticket revenue, bake sale, chuck-a-puck, raffle and a donation box,” Tix said.
Each team will wear red laces, use red sock tape and wear red hair ribbons to continue bringing awareness to the issue on one of the State of Hockey’s biggest days.
“We have wristbands that we will be handing out to everyone at the game or sports teams can get stickers from us,” Bizal said. “I have worn this wristband and at school people have asked me what it’s for, and that starts more dialogue. It’s just little things; it doesn’t need to be a big letter or something. The Women’s Foundation has more beds for victims and there has been more awareness with their big campaign: ‘Minnesota girls are not for sale.’”
When asked how people reading this article can help, Tix said, “Just spreading the word about what we are doing. It’s a really unknown kind of subject. It sometimes can make people uncomfortable and it’s really easy to get confused with other major issues in our community. By spreading the word, if it is just like what we are doing or just the whole idea that sex trafficking is happening in our community. Yes, money is great, but spreading the word about what is happening is the most important thing that all of us agree that is what we are going for.
“Sex trafficking goes beyond the Super Bowl. While it does spike with the Super Bowl, it is an easy way to get people involved right now right here. It goes way beyond the Super Bowl and it’s happening every day. That statistic that 45 girls are being sold every night is just not OK.”