Neal Henderson learned the game of hockey when his father was stationed with the Merchant Marines in St. Catharines, Ontario, during World War II.
More than three decades later, Henderson began sharing the sport he loved with inner-city youth in Washington, D.C., by serving as co-founder of Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club. That commitment has remained through more than 40 years in what is now the oldest minority hockey club in North America.
Appreciation for his efforts have led to Neal Henderson Day in Washington and a proclamation from the state of Maryland. The newest honor comes Thursday with Henderson’s induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the five-member Class of 2019.
Henderson spoke about his selection for the Hall of Fame in an interview with USA Hockey just ahead of the induction ceremony.
USA Hockey: What does it mean to you to be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame?
Neal Henderson: It’s a peak of my life so far, other than being married or having a son. It’s one of the highlights of my life.
USAH: When you got the call that you were going to be inducted, what was your reaction?
NH: I was totally shocked by the call from USA Hockey.
USAH: Who was the biggest influence in your career?
NH: I guess it would be my first coach [Norm Burnier] who really gave me the inspiration to want to play the game and become a lover of the game.
USAH: Originally, how did you get involved in hockey?
NH: I did what the kids in the neighborhood did at the time while living in St. Catharines.
USAH: You co-founded the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club in the D.C. area. What impact has the program had on the community and the players who have gone through it?
NH: It’s been a rolling effect ever since I started. Kids have been coming and parents have been bringing their children to me. I’ve never had to put up an announcement about enrollment or anything. It’s been a constant enrollment through word of mouth.
USAH: In recent years, your efforts have been recognized in many ways beyond the Hall of Fame selection. What does that mean to you?
NH: These are things I never thought or had on my mind that I would ever receive.
I was working with children for the love of the children and seeing them progress and have the opportunity to see a game that they saw on TV or came to the rink and saw, but maybe thought were not able to do it. And, after they found out they could have that opportunity, they took advantage of it and became successful at it.
USAH: What advice do you have to anybody who wants to get involved in hockey, whether it’s as a volunteer, coach or someone getting started as a player?
NH: First, I would hope that they would have their heart in what they wish to do instead of just going to try it. You have to fall in love with ice hockey in order to truly play it.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.