Fairfield Ludlowe senior Vallillo trying to give Bridgeport kids a ‘Chance To Play’ hockey

Fairfield’s John Vallillo has grown up around hockey. It’s his passion, and his senior season with the Fairfield co-op high school team is coming up. He’s as passionate about the Boston Bruins, rooting for do-everything captain Patrice Bergeron.

But he knew from experience that it’s not a cheap sport to play, let alone to start. And he found out that lots of schools don’t have the budget for decent street hockey equipment, if it’s even on their radar.

Wanting to share that passion, he started a program called Chance To Play, introducing hockey to gym classes in Bridgeport schools. He has been to two schools so far.

“In my wildest dreams, I’d see this be a national program, dedicated to going into cities all across the country,” said Vallillo, a student at Fairfield Ludlowe.

Vallillo said he’s in the process of making Chance To Play a nonprofit organization so he can raise money for school programs, equipment and scholarships.

“My thought was to host kids on the ice surface,” Vallillo said. “Scheduling that was a little too difficult. I reached out to people I knew in the Bridgeport school system.”

Invited by a gym teacher at Hall School, Vallillo spent about 45 minutes with each of Grades 3-6 last month.

“How to stickhandle, how to shoot. We finished with a game,” Vallillo said.

“I had a kid at Hall say ‘hockey’s my new favorite sport.’”

Last week, he went to High Horizons Magnet School and met up with the seventh graders there.

“He’s great,” High Horizons principal Francine Carbone said.

“I walked into the gym, and three kids immediately said ‘this is so much fun.’”

Without much money in the program yet, Vallillo said he has found some solid partnerships, including one with the AHL’s Bridgeport Islanders, working with community engagement manager Sam Provost and amateur hockey sales and programming manager Tarah Kelly.

“They have the same goal, getting into the community,” Vallillo said. “We decided to partner.”

The Islanders have provided their street hockey equipment to Vallillo. Team president of business operations Brent Rossi said he also likes that Vallillo also stresses things like teamwork and effort in his presentation.

“It’s an opportunity we jumped at, an opportunity to really help grow the game of hockey within our community,” Rossi said.

“It’s an absolute home run for us. Hopefully it leads to a lot more kids interested in hockey, and hopefully, selfishly, they become Bridgeport Islander fans.”

Vallillo’s dream of going national will take some time, but in the shorter term, he’s hoping to bring the program to more cities in Fairfield County.

“I think there’s so much potential,” he said. “I’m proud of what’s accomplished so far. I hope to reach as many kids as possible.”

He’ll settle for one student at a time getting exposed to the sport and going on to play.

“It’s a huge accomplishment for a young guy,” Carbone said. “If he can do this as a high school student, imagine what he can do in the business world?”

mfornabaio@ctpost.com; @fornabaioctp