Chillin’ with the Checkers is the result of a paid partnership between Queen City Nerve and the Charlotte Checkers in which Nerve staff has full editorial control and Checkers offer financial support for creative, experiential coverage.
For better or worse, hockey is often viewed as a masculine sport. Of course, our vote is for worse, and we’ve thought so ever since Connie kicked ass in The Mighty Ducks, but it’s an unfortunate reality in front offices throughout professional hockey. That’s why we’re fans of Tera Black.
One would think it would take an altogether fearless woman to break through the glass ceiling and become the only chief operating officer in professional hockey, as Black became when she took that role for the Charlotte Checkers in 2008. Turns out, maybe not.
For the first iteration of our new Chillin’ with the Checkers series, we decided to put Black’s nerves to the test by bringing Tera and her husband Jamie to Gastonia for the Hickory Grove Haunted Trail. As it turns out, while Black is undeniably fearless on a professional level, in her personal life, not so much.
When we ask Jamie, a former professional hockey player who now works as an accountant for the Checkers, whether his wife scares easily, he doesn’t need much time to think it over.
“I would say yes,” he responds, laughing. “She’s a little jumpy.”
Before grilling Black with some questions related to her favorite holiday (below), I walked through the 30-minute trail with Tera, Jamie and Queen City Nerve publisher Justin LaFrancois. I think I can speak for everyone when I say it was a terrifying experience for all of us, but Tera got it the worst.
We walked into the woods with a group of 10, not including our amazing guide Amanda, at around 8 p.m., all of us holding onto a rope so as not to get lost. The first sign of trouble came when Amanda told us to make sure all phones, keys and wallets were secured, as if we were getting on some sort of roller-coaster.
Shortly after the first building we walked through, which featured some grotesque circular saw action, we passed an especially startling man that somehow has mastered the sound of a rabid hog with gunshot wound. I jumped a mile when he came out from his impossible hiding space behind a miniscule bush, and that set the mood for all of us: This wasn’t going to be an easy experience.
By that point, Tera had already begun repeating the word “No” in rapid succession, even on the seemingly peaceful breaks. After passing through some tunnels that shrunk in size as we walked, we came out into another opening. It was then that Amanda heard me ask if that was Tera behind me whimpering proactively at what was to come. Amanda let out an ominous announcement to her cohorts in the woods: “Tera is number 3!”
From then on, Tera’s fate was sealed. As we continued our trek through the woods, every creepy character that jumped out at us followed up with a special visit to Tera. While decoys would slowly stalk us from one side of the path, keeping our eyes glued on them, some other monster would pop up right next to Tera with one of any number of loud power tools.
Tera built an especially close bond with Michael Myers, who was not only a recurring character in the haunted trail but has apparently been one throughout Tera’s life (see below). Michael stuck to Tera like he knew she had a special fear of him, and I got jolted every time he came back through the woods just to visit her, as she would pull hard on the rope every time she saw him, or pull hard on my hoodie when Michael would get between her and Jamie, who was behind her in line.
Beyond the repeated “No” exclamation, I could hear Tera repeatedly muttering, “No, don’t touch,” when we were in closed spaces, before settling into an “It’s ok” mantra that she repeated as if trying to convince herself of it during the second half of the trail.
(When asked later what her least favorite part of the trail was, she said, “I don’t like when they’re so close to you in the tunnels. You feel things touching you and you don’t know what it is.”
After passing through a seemingly endless encampment of demented clowns that had escaped from an ice cream truck (Twisted Metal, anyone?), Amanda let go of the rope and left us alone to wander through a narrow, pitch-black maze, with one hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us and the other dragging along the wall so as to keep what was left of our bearings. For a claustrophobic person like myself, it was an unsettling way to wrap things up.
Following the maze, we were chased out of the trail by not one but two chainsaw-wielding monsters (could have been clowns, I don’t know, I wasn’t looking back), and as the four of us caught our collective breath, I asked Tera for her immediate review of the experience.
“I would say that it’s probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, literally,” she said, breathlessly. “So much adrenaline, the characters were fantastic. The Michael Myers bit; he really took it to me. The original Halloween, which was my first horror movie as a kid, that sticks with you your whole life, and now this will stick with me my whole life.”
After retreating to the Blacks’ car and taking some time to regroup, I hit Tera with a few questions about Halloween, followed by some talk about the new Checkers season.
Queen City Nerve: How long has Halloween been your favorite holiday, and why?
Tera Black: Ever since I can remember. I mean literally since I was a child, I would have my parents stop at every cemetery, starting at 10 [years old], and I would just walk through it. I don’t know, I just love it; I love being scared, I love the horror movies. I think starting in seventh grade at slumber parties we’d watch Halloween and Friday the 13th and all of those when they were sort of new and coming out. So I think as long as I’ve been alive.
Would you say you’re easily scared?
Yes, but I like to be the scarer, too. If you go back on the Checkers website, on our YouTube, you’ll see all of our Halloween videos, and we’ve done some elaborate stuff to scare each other. I like to be the scarer but I’m always afraid I’m going to be the victim, so I’m always a little reactive. (See 1:34 mark of video below to see Tera terrified.)
What’s a recurring nightmare of yours?
We’ve been rewatching all of the Halloween movies right now and I am legitimately terrified of Michael Myers. That hit home so hard for me [in the trail]. He was spot on in his character so that would be my nightmare. One night I woke up screaming in our house and I was convinced that his face was in our window. I made Jamie go outside and everything. So I would say Michael Myers is my single biggest nightmare.
I guess you’ve already answered at this point, but what is your favorite scary movie?
I would say the same thing: Halloween, the original — all the amazing camera angles and the real film quality of that movie. I would say Halloween, for sure.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Yeah, I do.
Any experience with the paranormal?
Well yeah — lately, actually. We’ve lived in our house since 2011, and we have surround sound, so anything can happen with the WiFi or whatever the case is. For the first five years we lived there, nothing happened, and then suddenly now in the middle of the night our music goes on and it’s always off of [Jamie’s] phone. We researched it and generally if it’s hooked to your TV those things can happen and ours is not hooked to anything, it’s just a receiver. And then [Jamie] was at [Bojangles’] Coliseum, and we live by Freedom Park, which is three or four miles away, and the girls and I were at home and it turns on again, which is crazy, from his phone four miles away. That’s happened several times.
We also lived in a house in San Diego where the previous owner had died tragically, in a way that really involved suffering. He bought that place but they didn’t tell us until three days before we were closing. So Jamie traveled because he played professional hockey, and the first week we were there I was by myself and I woke up and all the lights were on in the house and the microwave was open. So I don’t know, I’ve got some pretty intense stuff.
What’s your favorite way to celebrate Halloween?
I would say definitely something like this. I loved this, I thought this was the most fun. We decorate our house. I probably have 30 giant spiders and spiderwebs, we do all of that. I love going trick-or-treating with the kids.
Do you prank your kids and try to scare them this time of year?
We were just talking about that, and we’re going to try to do that tonight when we get home. I told him, “Let’s try to scare the kids when we get home.” [Update: Their youngest saw them pulling into the driveway so the mission was compromised.]
What’s your favorite costume you’ve ever worn?
I was a cupcake [as a child]. It was so amazing. My mom turned a lampshade upside down and I stuck my legs through it. It was a pleated lampshade, and then a big brown trash bag so I stuffed it and my head was the cherry; I wore a red shower cap.
How about in adulthood?
I was The Bachelorette one year and Jamie was [The Bachelorette host] Chris Harrison. I’m being Flo from Progressive this year and Jamie’s Jake from State Farm.
What do you give the kids that come to your door on Halloween?
We get a ton of candy. We will generally give full handfuls of the really good stuff. We have full boxes of Mike & Ikes and all the good chocolate.
What’s your favorite Halloween candy?
You’re a huge cat person, always supporting local rescues, and you’ve got a couple cats yourself with an Instagram account and everything. What will Rick and Cheeto be dressing up as this year?
Rick has a shark costume but he’s too fat to get in it. I have a little hockey jersey, so maybe I’ll put him in it. He’s a really good goalie when we play and we put him in the goal and throw balls at him, he stops them.
That’s a good segue into some hockey talk. As many Checkers fans know, you’re the only woman COO in professional hockey, and the first woman to have her name on the Calder Cup. Do you take a lot of pride in that fact?
A tremendous amount of pride, obviously, but I will say, and I always say this: I didn’t get here on my own. I have been supported by a career full of wonderful and supportive men, one being my husband, who played professional hockey but also gave me my street cred with the game, knowing the game; our owner Michael Kahn, who took a chance in putting me in this position; the same with the former owner in San Diego [where Tera served as COO for the mid-level ECHL team the San Diego Gulls]. A lot of people allowed me this opportunity, so I always want to say that, but it’s awesome, and it doesn’t feel like work.
Coming off of a Calder Cup championship year, what’s your main focus now at the beginning of a new season?
We can never control what’s happening on the ice. We are only as good as our parent club is good at recruiting and how the roster shakes out and so we can’t plan around what happens on the ice. Obviously, last year we reached the pinnacle and expectations are high and I think people bought into our brand because of how it made them feel emotionally; you’re emotionally invested [in the team] and you’re emotionally invested in the players as they move on in their careers. So prior to this, my philosophy has always been entertain from the moment you walk in to the moment you walk out, and whatever happens on the ice is secondary. So that’s like tripled now.
How are you implementing that this year?
With our theme nights. We’ll do a Harry Potter Night where we do a scarf giveaway and you can meet an owl; this will be our second year doing that. We’re going to do a 704 Night where the jerseys will be Charlotte-themed and have the “CLT” and the crown and we’ll really embrace everything local. Obviously the Pooch Party and the Caturday, which I’m a huge advocate so those ones are always really super awesome. So people come and they’re there because of a cause or what’s important to them and what happens on the ice is secondary.
The Hickory Grove Haunted Trail is located at 4064 Mountainview St. in Gastonia. Their schedule relies on the weather, so check in to see when they plan to open between now and Nov. 2. The number there is 704-201-4762.