COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Josh Sweeney (Phoenix, Ariz.) of the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team is the inaugural recipient of the Pat Tillman Award for Service, an honor created by ESPN and the Pat Tillman Foundation that will be presented at The 2014 ESPYS July 16 at Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.
"Growing up in Phoenix, I was very familiar with Pat Tillman and what he stood for; I aspired to be like him," said Sweeney, an alternate captain for the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team. "Receiving this award is truly an honor. I look forward to being a part of The 2014 ESPYS and assisting the Pat Tillman Foundation in its efforts to benefit veterans."
Sweeney scored the gold-medal winning goal in Team USA's 1-0 triumph over Russia at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. As a result, the U.S. became the first nation to win back-to-back Paralympic gold medals in sled hockey.
A sniper in the U.S. Marine Corps, Sweeney was on patrol in Afghanistan in October 2009 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. He received a Purple Heart for his service. An able-bodied hockey player in high school, Sweeney was drawn to sled hockey during his rehabilitation in San Antonio, Texas. He was less than two years removed from his injuries when he began his career with the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team in 2011-12.
“We’re proud to honor Josh Sweeney with the first annual Pat Tillman Award for Service, which pays tribute to the lasting legacy of selflessness, leadership and sacrifice that Pat represented, and we look forward to this new tradition at the ESPYS," said Connor Schell, vice president, ESPN Films and Original Entertainment, who oversees the ESPYS.”
Ten years after his death, the Pat Tillman Award for Service was created to honor former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman. The annual award will honor an individual with a strong connection to sports that has served others in a way that echoes the Tillman legacy.
Tillman placed his NFL career on hold to enlist in the U.S. Army. He served tours in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 as well as in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004. On the evening of April 22, 2004, Tillman’s unit was ambushed as it traveled through eastern Afghanistan leading to his tragic death.
Founded in 2004, the Pat Tillman Foundation invests in military veterans and their spouses through educational scholarships – building a diverse community of leaders committed to service to others.
“Pat was deeply committed to a life of service both in and out of uniform as a teammate and soldier,” said Marie Tillman, president and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation. “Sgt. Josh Sweeney embodies the selfless spirit of service that has defined this generation of veterans for more than a decade. In Pat’s name, we’re proud to honor Josh for his incredible achievements leading Team USA, but especially for his dedication to inspire and empower others as leaders for our country.”
The 2014 ESPYS will be televised live July 16 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Notes: Declan Farmer (Tampa, Fla.) is a nominee for the 2014 ESPY Award for Best Male Athlete with a Disability. Fan voting is open at ESPN.com/ESPYS and runs to July 16. Steve Cash (Overland, Mo.), Team USA's goaltender at the 2010 and 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, won the 2010 ESPY Award for Best Male Athlete with a Disability.
If you’ve ever called USA Hockey with officiating registration questions, you’ve likely heard the voice of Helen Fenlon. As the manager of officiating administration, Fenlon is the brains behind registration operations. She started working with USA Hockey in 1991 and joined the officiating department in 1993.
Fenlon took a break from readying eager officials for the upcoming season to tell us more about herself and the registration process.
USA Hockey: How did you first get involved with USA Hockey? Did you lace up the skates or make the call on the ice a time or two?
Helen Fenlon: (Laughs) No, I wasn’t a ref or player. I was a mom and I had a child that played. I volunteered at the local association for a number of years and volunteered at USA Hockey. Before I knew it I was employed by them and have been doing this job ever since. It’s nice because I’ve seen the volunteer side and know how the local and state boards work because I did all of that when my kids were growing up.
USA Hockey: What’s a typical day like for you?
Helen Fenlon: I work on the officiating registration. When everyone registers (to be an official) they are mailed out books to do the test and emailed information about doing the test online and ways to sign up for seminars online as well. Then I score the test when they come in for the closed-book test and basically answer all the questions that pertain to the ice hockey refs. I manage approximately 24,000 registrations when from August 1 through March. Once the registration period is over, we start getting ready for next year.
USA Hockey: How has the registration process changed in your 21-year tenure?
Helen Fenlon: When we first started, we used to mail them out the application, have them mail it back with a check and then we would process it. Once that was done, we would mail them a test and they would mail us back their answer sheet when they were done. It was all done by hand back then. Now, for registration, they just go online and pay with a credit card and the test is also done online. It’s much easier for everyone involved.
In the past, we also would just do an open-book test, but it’s evolved into different levels of doing an open-book and closed-book test, and some do a skating exam, too. Also going into place this year, everyone will do an online seminar.
USA Hockey: Officials must be happy to have the process accelerated thanks to online capabilities.
Helen Fenlon: It’s great for people to access the test faster and be able to turn materials around faster so they can start working. To some of these people, it’s a job. Others do it because they want to help kids. People do it for all kinds of different reasons. For me, it’s impressive to see people who stick with (officiating) for so long.
USA Hockey: How have the resources available to officials changed through the years?
Helen Fenlon: Right now, with the new rules and programs in place, the amount of resources available for officials education is improving, but we’re always looking for more ways to help our officials be successful.
USA Hockey: What’s one thing you want to remind everyone about?
Helen Fenlon: It’s always been my goal for everybody across the country, whether you’re in Colorado Springs, New York, California or anywhere in between, to follow the same rules as far as being able to become an official and complete the registration. That’s the fair way, and it’s the best way to ensure the best quality of officiating throughout the country.