Just under a month ago, the Washington Capitals defied years of early playoff exit disappointment and won the National Hockey League Championship. As part of their local tour of the Stanley Cup, captain Alex Ovechkin and the team took the massive trophy to Washington D.C.’s Fort Dupont Ice Arena, which houses the oldest minority youth hockey program in the nation.
The Fort Dupont Ice Arena houses the Fort Dupont Cannons, composed of youth players from 8-17, including a traveling youth team that has played in Massachusetts, Delaware, New Jersey and beyond. For four decades, the Cannons have thrived under the leadership of Coach Neal Henderson. Henderson, a native of St. Croix raised in Canada, grew up playing hockey and spread that love to kids living in his Maryland neighborhood.
Initially, Coach Henderson could only teach them the game in his driveway but started renting out an ice rink to teach the real mechanics of the game. Area kids at Fort Dupont Ice Arena were drawn to the sport despite not having enough money to buy the necessary equipment. With the help of the community and eventually the NHL, Fort Dupont began getting the necessary tools for Henderson to pass on his hockey skills.
The Cannons have been officially in existence since 1978 and stays afloat with assistance from the Capitals, with players from the team frequent fixtures there, the generosity of the neighborhood and other organizations. Henderson also hosts fund-raising events to supply the instruction, which amazingly comes free of charge.
Former Cannons player Lt. Col. Ralph Featherstone of the U.S. Marines became the first Black player to be named captain for the U.S. Naval Academy’s hockey club. Featherstone credited Coach Henderson’s tough-love approach in molding him as a player and soldier.
PHOTO: Twitter video screenshot
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