On Wednesday, the NHL announced the five people set to be inducted to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on December 12th, 2019. Among them are NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, former NHL players and Stanley Cup winners Tim Thomas and Brian Gionta, two-time U.S. Olympian Krissy Wendell, and co-founder of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, Neal Henderson.
Over the last 40 years, Henderson has dedicated his life to growing the game of hockey in D.C. through his Fort Dupont program. Based out of Fort Dupont Ice Arena, the development program provides access to local and inner-city youth hockey players to an organized league, and has the distinction of being the oldest minority hockey club in North America. Henderson was also a finalist for the inaugural Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award in 2018, and provided the foundations for the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone program.
Congrats, Coach! @usahockey announced Coach Neal Henderson, co-founder and coach of the Cannons – inaugural member of @NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone program – will be inducted into the #USHHOF Class of 2019. We are so proud of his contributions to hockey! https://t.co/cO3LkfsCkk
— Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club: The Cannons (@DCCannons) September 4, 2019
Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis released a statement on the news that Henderson would be inducted to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in December.
“Neal Henderson is a pioneer in hockey in the Washington and Baltimore communities,” Leonsis wrote. “We are fortunate to have an advocate for hockey such as Henderson who consistently brings joy to the sport while sharing his wealth of knowledge with kids. Henderson’s work with Fort Dupont Ice Arena and D.C.’s minority hockey programs is a vibrant part of our community and he is a true ambassador for the sport of hockey. Moreover, with USA Hockey’s selection of Washington, D.C., as the host city for the 2019 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Induction celebration event, we are thrilled to celebrate Henderson’s achievements in the community he has so greatly impacted.”
The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame profile for Henderson follows below.
For the last 40-plus years, Neal Henderson (Upper Marlboro, Md.) has dedicated his life to spreading the game of hockey and using the sport to provide lifelong lessons to youth in America. A natural mentor, Henderson noticed a greater demand for organized hockey in his home of Washington D.C. in the late 1970s. Soon, Henderson starting renting ice time at the local Fort Dupont Ice Arena to accommodate players, and in 1978, he co-founded the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club in the D.C. area.
Known as the Cannons, Henderson’s developmental program is designed to provide local and inner-city youth skaters with the opportunity to both learn the game of hockey and participate in an organized league. The oldest minority hockey club in North America, Fort Dupont offers young hockey enthusiasts aged 8-to-18 a chance to hone their skills as hockey players while also using the sport to establish a sense of community, self-esteem and purpose. Since its inception, Henderson’s league has successfully established hockey as a medium to build character, teach life skills and instill positive values in thousands of youth skaters in the D.C. area. Henderson also uses the club to provide players the chance to explore new cities and attend college visits while traveling for games.
In addition to growing the game locally with the Cannons, Henderson was integral in laying the foundation for the NHL’s early Hockey is for Everyone program, a nation-wide initiative that seeks to drive positive social change and inclusivity throughout the hockey community. A finalist for the inaugural Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award in 2018, Henderson and the Cannons were celebrated by the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals for their contribution to the spread of hockey in Washington, D.C.
At age 82, Henderson is still going strong and making an impact on the lives of young people. And the Fort Dupont program he started more than 40 years ago has inspired others in major metropolitan areas to follow suit and positively influence youth in their communities.
Headline photo: @Capitals
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