Wheeling, Ill. (CBS) – During Black History Month, we introduced you to a young hockey player from Evanston named Ari Sushinski, who is the first black girl to serve on the men’s varsity team at Evanston Hockey.
This story reached a very special man in Wheeling – who was watching our report and was surprised to find himself part of it.
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CBS 2’s Jackie Kostek brought the trailblazers together on Friday.
“I was sitting here watching Black History Month, and all of a sudden Ari’s story comes into focus,” Carlos Matthews said.
And while Matthews was watching Kostek’s report on Ari, guess what happened.
“All of a sudden, I look – ‘That’s my picture! It’s me ! “, did he declare.
Now 71 years old, he saw himself at 12 on the screen. He was the only black player on one of Evanston’s early hockey teams in the 1960s.
“The friends I had around me – that’s what they played, and that’s what I did,” Matthews said. “I was always able to have people around me who were doing the same things as me – and they were playing hockey.”
Matthews even knew then that few black kids played hockey. Willie O’Ree had broken the NHL color barrier a few years earlier.
But Matthews says he has never faced racism while playing.
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“The guys that were all in that picture with me, we were all the same — and they loved me, I loved them, and they knew I was good,” Matthews said.
Nevertheless. Matthews says he’s never been as good as the girl he saw on screen last week. Ari Sushinski forged her own path this season as the first black girl to play on an Evanston boys’ varsity team — something she did as a freshman.
“You’re the first, and I’m the first, but we won’t be the last,” Matthews told Sushinski in a Zoom chat.
“It’s absolutely amazing to be able to talk to you,” replied Sushinski.
“I saw you, and I know you understood that. And you keep going, and once you hit the top pick, you’ll be one in a million — the first black woman,” Matthews told Sushinski. “Not only that – the best!”
“To be able to see what the future can bring us and see how many more black girls and boys are going to be able to play hockey in Evanston, or anywhere really, is really exciting to know,” Sushinski said.
Words of encouragement and admiration from one pioneer to another…
Matthew: “Keep getting stronger, keep skating harder and keep controlling them.”
Sushinsky: “I will. I will definitely.”
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Matthews told Kostek that he played just about every sport in high school and then got a full scholarship to play football at the University of Kansas. Matthews came to the NFL briefly, before a career-ending injury.