Legendary radio and television talk show host and DC icon Petey Greene first brought Neal Henderson to my attention in the Early 70s. Petey’s Sunday radio show “Petey Greene’s Washington” was the talk of the town. He made me his designated expert on everything sports when the show made its debut in 1965. In 1970 I parlayed Petey Greene’s Washington into my own radio talk show, Inside Sports.
Much like my God-Aunt and designated co-host Isabel Sanford and Sherman Hemsley of “The Jeffersons” sitcon, I moved on up to NE DC and W-O-O-K Radio and the rest is sports talk radio history.
Inside Sports was the first radio sports talk show that Neal appeared on to discuss “Blacks in Hockey!” It was Black History Month and I knew absolutely nothing about hockey, but he gave me and my listening audience a 101 Lesson Plan. In 1974 Mike Marson was drafted and became the first black player to play for the Washington Capitals. Marson was drafted in the second round and was the 19th overall pick. I remember Neal calling and asking if I was interested in having the Capitals first black player Mike Marson on Inside Sports? It was a no brainer–I said, “Yes” and we have been networking ever since.
My mentor and friend Petey Greene and now CBS/NFL studio host James Brown are seen in a joint venture for BET in the early days of Brown’s career.
Neal and I have a whole lot in common other than our black skins. I found my non-profit organization Kids in Trouble in December 1968 several months after the DC riots. Neal found his non-profit the Ft. Dupont hockey team in 1977. We both went where there was no path and left a trail for others to follow.
The two programs are both dedicated to enhancing the lives of inner-city youth through education and sports. The success stories that have come out of these two storied franchises read like a Who’s Who!
In May of 2018 I celebrated my 80th birthday and Neal celebrated his 81st birthday several weeks later. Neal was born in St. Croix, Canada, but moved to the DMV as a young adult, instead of trying to teach his son the traditional games of the inner-city, football, basketball and baseball, he decided to teach him the game he played while growing up in Canada–hockey. Out of this teaching moment he found the Ft. Dupont Hockey Club and the rest is youth ice hockey history, today it is the oldest minority hockey team in the country.
Neal is responsible for producing a generation of black hockey players and fans in the DMV.
Kenneth Martin is the NHL’S VP for Community Affairs, said, “Neal’s relentless commitment to children has been a trademark of our ‘Hockey is for Everyone Program!’ When it comes to ‘hockey is for everyone’ Neal was decades ahead of the NHL when it came to that thought. On any given practice at the Ft. Dupont Skating Rink you will see a rainbow of colors participating on the ice–diversity is more than just a catch-phrase to him.
For the past 40+ years on Mondays and Wednesday the lobby of the Ft. Dupont ice rink is loaded with kids from 8 to 18 in their uniforms and carrying worn mostly donated ice hockey equipment. It gets a little loud as teams shuffle ice times,and parents workout carpool arrangements. The faces have changed over the years, players come and go, they graduate from high school and move on to college and jobs in new cities, but they never forget Coach Neal Henderson.
For example; Donnie Shaw the 3rd, has gone on to play hockey in college. Still others, like Daubte Abercrombie, became so hooked on the game through Neal they are now pursuing pro hockey opportunities. “Coach Neal is a true living legend and a man with a long list of accomplishments that continue to grow,” said Shaw, one of two first recpients of 2013 NHL/Thurgood Marshall College Fund scholarship award. Shaw played for Elmira College in New York City. “I cannot thank Coach Henderson enough for all that he has done for me, as well as the devotion that he personally puts into every single kid who joins his hockey program.”
Donnie Shaw III joins mentor Neal Henderson as guest of Caps owner Ted Leonis
Some folks are legends in their own minds, Neal Henderson is a legend in his own time.