The Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award recognizes an individual, who like Willie O'Ree, has worked to make a positive impact on his or her community, culture, or society to make people better through hockey.
Learn more about this year's finalists below. Fans can vote once every 24 hours until July 24 at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Oxon Hill, Maryland
The Tucker Road Ducks are a predominantly African American ice hockey team in Maryland that suffered a devastating fire in 2017, which left their ice rink destroyed and their team without a place to play. Briggs-Blake, President of the Tucker Road Parent Hockey Organization (TRPHO) and mother of a former Tucker Road Ducks player, used her passion for hockey to rally her community together to build a new ice rink. Through her leadership and advocacy efforts, over $20M was secured and the new ice rink is projected to be completed by February of 2021.
Briggs-Blake knows the lasting impact hockey can have on kids and does everything she can to provide access to the sport, including providing full sets of equipment for players and through a partnership with M-NCPPC offers incredibly low registration fees. If a family is unable to afford the fees the TRPHO comes through. A community hero, ally, friend, mentor, and mother, Briggs-Blake is an inspiration to the hockey community. She remains dedicated to the sport and has made it her mission to continue spreading her love for hockey and recruiting new players to the Tucker Road Duck.
John Haferman of Columbus, Ohio founded the Columbus Ice Hockey Club, which has led to approximately 30,000 boys and girls from underprivileged neighborhoods in central Ohio being introduced to hockey. The program is usually at least 65 percent minority and 25 percent female, and all those involved develop core values through the sport to use for the rest of their lives. CIHC also provides programming for participants in conditioning, academic support, violence prevention, and community service. Because of the CIHC's commitment to developing young people on and off the ice, some graduates have secured college scholarships and several have returned to the club to serve as mentors for younger players.
In the Fall of 2019, Haferman and leaders of the local sled and Special Hockey programs teamed up to offer a unique Try Hockey For Free clinic designed for individuals with visual impairments. From that clinic, a small blind hockey group was formed. Haferman recruited instructors and offered to share a portion of his ice with the group during CIHC practices. He also took it upon himself to provide the players with full equipment.
Dampy Brar of Calgary, Alberta played professionally in the International Hockey League and Western Hockey League, mentors, coaches and teaches hockey to kids and started an initiative with his partner Lali Toor, called APNA Hockey. The program provides support to South Asian players, connects the community, highlights players and parents and spreads information.
He also worked with Hayley Wickenheiser and the Wickfest team to bring the first-ever Women's Ice Hockey team to Canada from Laddak India. Brar traveled with the team, provided mentorship, and APNA hockey held coaching sessions for the team. He is a huge advocate of girls playing hockey since ethnic girls are even more unlikely to be put in hockey. Brar continues to play hockey in the Heritage League and leads his league in scoring. This summer, he is going to Europe for the World Master's Ball Hockey tournament, as a member of Team Canada.