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 league 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.