Claire Peterson

(KPAX) Sports can often have a larger impact than just a fun game, and one recreational hockey team in Missoula is proving that to be true.

Glacier Ice Rink hosts a men's recreational hockey league every winter where each team chooses a sponsor to help support the costs of the league.

Hockey captains Dave Jenks and Alex Pearsall and their team chose an LGBTQ+ community center in Missoula — The Center — as the sponsor for their jersey.

Jenks and Pearsall didn't ask for money from The Center, just for permission to wear their logo and promote their message.

“People on our team come from various different backgrounds, various different political leanings, but we all adamantly believe that hockey is a sport for everybody, and so we all kind of decided that that was a message that we wanted to promote, and thought this would be a good way to do it," Jenks said.

The Center's executive director Andy Nelson said he was happy to jump on board with this collaboration.

"[Jenks] was like we want you to sponsor us, but we don’t want you to pay a dime," Nelson said. "We just want to spread the word, spread your message, encourage people to learn more about your organization, and support the LGBTQ+ community, and so we were like 'this is amazing, yes, wear our rainbow'."

The rainbow jerseys were funded by the players as well as a sponsorship with Compass Barbershop.

The Center's hockey team is made up of a group of friends, most of whom have been playing hockey together for five or six years. Jenks and Pearsall both picked up hockey later in their lives — sometime in their mid-20s.

Jenks says he was inspired by how welcoming the hockey community was.

“When I first showed up to play hockey, I didn’t know how to skate, I didn’t know how to do anything, and I was welcomed, and that felt good," Jenks says. "So we want to make sure that anyone that kind of gets an inkling to come out and lace them up feels the same way.”

While the Glacier Ice Rink league is a competition, Jenks and Pearsall say they come to the rink to have fun. They want everyone on the ice to have a good time and feel included.

“We’re all out here to play a game and have fun, and while there is a competitive edge to it, as long as everybody’s smiling through the end of it, feels like they’re a part of the team, I think that’s sort of what my mission is when I step on the ice," Pearsall said.

The Center in Missoula is committed to providing safe, welcoming social spaces for members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community. Nelson says this sort of representation is very helpful in spreading The Center's message.

"Allies have always been really important to us, and historically change doesn’t happen without the help of the allied community," he says. "From equal rights, to gay marriage, it's been allies who have been along for this ride, supporting us, fighting with us, learning what it's like to walk in our shoes."

Pearsall and Jenks say they are honored and thankful to be able to wear The Center's rainbow.

The Center is having a "queers hockey night" on Feb. 19 where they will go to Glacier Ice Rink and watch Jenks and Pearsall's team play. The game starts at 8:45 and Nelson wants to encourage folks to come to the arena and meet people from The Center.