The NHL’s First Black Player Visits Newark’s Hockey Program

Willie O’Ree Visits East Side High School Meets with Hockey Team

[NEWARK, NJ - February 1, 2018] Newark Public Schools boys and girls hockey teams were in the company of the legendary Willie O’Ree, the National Hockey League’s (NHL) first African American player and Diversity Ambassador for the Hockey is for Everyone initiative, which is being recognized throughout the month. The New Jersey Devils are hosting Mr. O’Ree and NPS students today at the Prudential Center following his visit to East Side High School Mr. O’Ree played with the Boston Bruins in the beginning of his career from 1958 to 1961. His professional career spanned 21 seasons, mostly in the Western Hockey League with the Los Angeles Blades and the San Diego Gulls.

Interim Superintendent of Newark Public Schools A. Robert Gregory said, “Mr. O’Ree is an extraordinary person, whose courage and commitment allowed him be an exemplary athlete and more importantly, a dedicated community servant. Thank you for continuing to share your wisdom with our students.”

“Mr. O’Ree is truly one of a kind both on and off the ice, said Keith Veltre, Special Assistant, Office of Athletics and CEO and Co-Founder of Hockey in New Jersey. He continued, “Serving as the National Hockey League's Diversity Ambassador for the Hockey is for Everyone initiative he has directly had an impact on growing the game of hockey in Newark, NJ. He has visited and spoken to our program many times over the years and shares his story of both success and overcoming adversity.”

Veltre said, 15 years ago he and Dennis Ruppe took over the East Side High School Hockey Program with only 5 players to start. Now in Newark alone, they have a high school boys Varsity and JV team and a girls team, as well. In conjunction with the Hockey In NJ (Newark) program, they will have over 500 boys and girls, ages 6-18 playing ice hockey at years end. Veltre said, “Mr. O’Ree has been not only been a role model for all of our children but has been a dear friend to our program for years.”

As a Diversity Ambassador, O’Ree has helped to introduce more than 85,000 boys and girls of diverse backgrounds to unique hockey experiences through the NHL program. O’Ree stresses essential life skills, education and the core values of hockey; commitment, perseverance and teamwork as part of his travels to students across North America.

Mr. O’Ree is the recipient of numerous awards and honors including being the inaugural recipient of the Bill Walsh Champion of Change Award and in 2010 he received the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honor. In 2011, O’Ree received the Sports Museum’s Hockey Legacy Award in recognition of his trailblazing NHL career and his many contributions to the hockey community.

Chairman of the NPS Board of Education Marques Aquil Lewis said, “What can you say about the Jackie Robinson of the NHL? One thing I can say is that we are proud and honored that Mr. O’Ree has agreed to return and inspire young athletes to reach their full potential. He is a legend and it is great that our young people will get an opportunity to learn from him.”