Rush rookie forward Tyler Coulter is a frequent face in the Rapid City community with the Rush organization. If there’s a school appearance, a Physical Education unit on hockey, or a postgame meet and greet, there’s a strong chance that #14 will be there. Of the many outstanding community initiatives he has taken part in this season, the rookie has a propensity to participate in “Badge Buddies”.
Introduced to the Rush for the first time this season, “Badge Buddies” is an opportunity for the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, Rapid City Police Department, and Box Elder Police Department to bring School Recourse and Liaison Officers, as well as local children, to Rush home games in an effort to foster positive relationships between law enforcement and children in the community.
“Throughout my whole life, I’ve had nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women in uniform that uphold our laws and protect our community,” said Coulter. “I’ve always enjoyed being a part of the community and helping others, and when we started ‘Badge Buddies’, it immediately piqued my interest. We did something similar to this in junior hockey when I played for the Brandon Wheat Kings, so there was some familiarity with the program in that respect.
“There are a number of reasons why this program is so important to me, with the first one being the marriage of the idea that our local officers are the good guys, and that good behavior gets rewarded,” Coulter continued. “Pairing these children up with the officers is an outstanding way to show that they are great people that are here to help and protect us. Bringing them to the game was a way to commend being respectful to your classmates, peers, and teachers, so it’s a great way to bring both of those very important points together.”
When Coulter was 20 years old, and in his final year of major-junior hockey with the Wheat Kings, he had an experience with law enforcement that he’s never forgotten. It was a reflective moment that really put life into perspective.
It was on East Hastings Street in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“That was a night I will never forget,” Coulter mentioned. “That experience in East Hastings was not for the faint of heart. I had a few sleepless nights after that experience.”
East Hastings Street in Vancouver is considered the most dangerous street in Canada, and, depending on who you talk to, in the entire world. The experience had a major impact on the promising hockey player.
“It was me, five of my teammates, one coach, and about ten officers that were undercover serving as our escorts,” Coulter reminisced. “It was a night of watching. I mean, we saw just about anything you could imagine and more. From drugs, to violence, to homelessness, it was quite comprehensive.
“I saw someone get gravely wounded, and people were shooting up heroin and an assortment of drugs,” he continued. “The officers encouraged us to speak to the residents there to gain perspective. It was really interesting for us, because we saw firsthand where certain roads in life take you. Being on such a dangerous street in Canada, it was imperative that we had such good quality people protecting us in the officers that build relationships down there, and allow us to come and learn.”
From there, Coulter disclosed that his teammates and the staff members that went on “The Hastings Walk”, as he referred to it, presented their experience to children of all ages. In particular, they reached out to high schoolers, about the dangers of experimenting with drugs.
“We covered everything,” Coulter added. “We talked about experimenting with drugs, and how that’s the beginning of a rough road in life. There are a lot of scary things in the world, and we tried to communicate that trying drugs even one time could put you on a path that wrecks you for your life. ‘The Hastings Walk’ was an eye-opening experience, and gave me a few sleepless nights just thinking about that lifestyle and how those decisions can play out.”
Coulter shared that this opportunity came about through the worldwide program D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). Most teams in the WHL participate in this walk in Hastings through various programs. The Kamloops Blazers, for instance, participate through “Project E.D.G.E.”, with “E.D.G.E.” standing for Educate, Develop, Grow, and Excel. Other teams utilize their local D.A.R.E programs. Some, in fact, lean on leadership through their General Managers to set up the experience for a handful of players, mostly in leadership and of senior status, to take part in the opportunity.
“It was a life changing experience, one of the most important I’ve ever had,” Coulter said. “There were no rules on this tour, so to speak, so we got to see the worst of the worst. Heck, we were three minutes into the tour and saw someone prepare and shoot heroin, who then proceeded to try and teach us how to do it as well.
“It couldn’t have been timed more perfectly though,” he continued, “because that’s when we started to present on the topic, and that’s when our version of ‘Badge Buddies’ in Brandon formed. We already had these programs ready to go for our team, but that definitely gave us the extra kick as both an organization and as players to carry this mission out.”
When asked what his biggest takeaway from “The Hastings Walk” was, Coulter didn’t hold back.
“For me, it was two-fold. First, those officers that police that street to ensure nothing leaves that area, and that people are safe down there are Saints. The officers there are some of the most patient and kind human beings ever,” Coulter explained. “As far as seeing that lifestyle, the second thing for me was the desperation. That caused a few sleepless nights afterwards. I mean think about it. For those people that went down that road to live that lifestyle, their goal was to find their next ten dollars to either shoot up or drink. Seeing that desperation in those people gave me not only an appreciation for those men and women that risk their lives every day to protect us, but also an appreciation for how my parents raised me, and how my friends kept me on the path that I’m currently on in life.
“I for sure couldn’t sleep that night,” he added. “You have to be some kind of special to see what I did and be able to sleep after that. My mind was racing.”
Fast forward to present day with the Rush. Coulter has essentially turned the team’s “Badge Buddies” program into his own, based on not just his personal respect for law enforcement, but also on what he saw that fateful night in Vancouver.
“The ‘Badge Buddies’ program is outstanding, and when the opportunity came to speak to these children and meet these officers, I felt compelled to do it as often as I could,” Coulter said. “On these postgame visits outside of the locker room, I’ll not just talk about the game or their experience, but I’ll try my best to hammer home how important these men and women are that protect us. At the end of the day, these children are impressionable, so I try to impress as best I can that these officers are still normal people like you and me, but they have a duty that transcends what we’d consider a normal job. Our lives are in their protection, so its more about humanizing them.
“As I mentioned earlier, the other piece of it is commending the children for behaving well,” Coulter expanded. “I’ll always make a mention along the lines of ‘Oh you must be very well-behaved to have the chance to see us, keep it up!’, that way it impresses how that positive behavior in school, with your teachers, and with these resource officers goes a long way.”
At the end of the day, Coulter’s message to these children, or any person reading this, is simple, yet poignant.
“My main message is this: don’t ever be afraid to ask for help, because that’s what our first responders are there for,” Coulter concluded. “These people are here to help us. I try to show them that these individuals are good people, just like mom or dad. I can’t thank our local law enforcement enough for what they do to keep Rapid City and the Black Hills safe, and can’t stress enough how much respect I have for these men and women that put their lives on the line to protect us. I encourage everyone that takes the time to hear my story to come out next Saturday and help our organization personally thank these people.”