Hockey Pioneers O’Ree, Bolden Inspire Students at Anaheim School

Hockey Pioneers O’Ree, Bolden Inspire Students at Anaheim School

The two luminaries spoke to more than 200 students at Westmont Elementary as part of the NHL Black Hockey History Tour

by Jenelyn Russo / Special to AnaheimDucks.com February 25, 2020

The NHL Black Hockey History Tour made its way to Orange County and stopped off at Westmont Elementary School in Anaheim yesterday to share with the students a message of diversity, inclusion and black achievement in the sport of hockey.

Nearly 200 fourth- and sixth-graders gathered to hear from NHL Diversity Ambassador and the league’s first black player, Willie O’Ree, along with black women’s hockey pioneer Blake Bolden, who was the first female African-American to play professional hockey in the United States.

Anaheim Ducks radio voice Steve Carroll hosted the two as they each shared with the kids how they got their start in hockey, the challenges they faced during their careers and what they hope to see in the future for the sport they love.

O’Ree’s inspiring story of overcoming both racism and a debilitating injury that left him blind in one eye to become the first black hockey player in the NHL in 1958 with the Boston Bruins sent a message to the students that hard work and goal setting are the foundation for achievement.

“It just goes to show you that you can do anything you set your mind to,” O’Ree said. “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re probably right. Set goals for yourself, work towards those goals and believe in yourself.”

"It just goes to show you that you can do anything you set your mind to," O'Ree said. "If you think you can, you can. If you think you can't, you're probably right. Set goals for yourself, work towards those goals and believe in yourself."“It just goes to show you that you can do anything you set your mind to,” O’Ree said. “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re probably right. Set goals for yourself, work towards those goals and believe in yourself.”

Bolden’s hockey journey took her from her native Ohio to Boston College where she played for the Eagles from 2009-2013. She then was the fifth overall selection of the Boston Blades of the CWHL – the first African-American player to be a first round selection in the league’s history – where she won the Clarkson Cup in 2015. In 2016, she joined the Boston Pride of the NWHL and helped lead the team to an Isobel Cup championship. The defender is also a two-time Team USA IIHF World Women’s U18 Championship Gold medal winner (2008, 2009) and played in the Swiss Women’s Hockey League for HC Lugano.

Bolden made the move to Southern California in 2017 and is continuing her work to grow the game locally. She is a scout for the Los Angeles Kings, as well as a coach with the San Diego Jr. Gulls Girls Hockey program.

She is also a member of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of professional women’s ice hockey and the creation of a sustainable league for its members.

This was Bolden’s first time joining O’Ree in speaking to students, and it was not lost on her how important her voice is a part of the Hockey is for Everyone initiative.

"Just sitting next to Willie during Black History Month is so incredible and inspiring for me personally," Bolden said. "I think it was really cool to have a female perspective for the girls that were there…and maybe some of them will pick up hockey. You never know."“Just sitting next to Willie during Black History Month is so incredible and inspiring for me personally,” Bolden said. “I think it was really cool to have a female perspective for the girls that were there…and maybe some of them will pick up hockey. You never know.”

“Just sitting next to Willie during Black History Month is so incredible and inspiring for me personally,” Bolden said. “I think it was really cool to have a female perspective for the girls that were there…and maybe some of them will pick up hockey. You never know.”

While she didn’t realize the amount of barriers she was breaking at the time, Bolden admits she feels part of her role as a black female hockey player is to share the message of equality in the sport.

“People ask me how I feel about being this ‘first person,’ and I look at Willie, and he’s doing such great work giving back for over 20 years now, so I feel like it’s my responsibility as a female to give my love for the sport back to the youth and help see the sport grow,” Bolden said.

Westmont fourth grade teacher Kelly Roush, who serves as the school’s Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program coordinator, acknowledged the significance of Bolden and O’Ree’s message for the students.

“We have a really diverse population here at our school,” Roush said. “So knowing that there are models like this that are available for them to see is really impactful to the kids.”

Westmont fourth grader Elijah was excited to hear the two hockey pioneers share their inspirational stories.

“I thought it was pretty interesting how they lived their lives and worked their way up to play professional hockey,” Elijah said. “They were the only black person on their teams, and they ignored the bullying and persevered.”

O’Ree and Bolden then joined the students as they toured the Black Hockey History truck, a mobile museum that highlights black achievement in hockey and is touring the country in conjunction with Black History Month. The museum includes background on both today’s stars, as well as the pioneers who influenced the growth of the NHL. Additionally, there is a special section dedicated to black players who have played for the Anaheim Ducks, including game-worn equipment showcased in a custom “locker room” display.

"We have a really diverse population here at our school," Roush said. "So knowing that there are models like this that are available for them to see is really impactful to the kids." “We have a really diverse population here at our school,” Roush said. “So knowing that there are models like this that are available for them to see is really impactful to the kids.”

Co-curator of the NHL Black Hockey History mobile museum Kwame Mason, who directed the black hockey history documentary, “Soul on Ice: Past, Present and Future,” hopes that fans of all ages will take the opportunity to tour the museum and learn about the impact black players have had on the sport.

“It was important for me that the narrative of hockey became broader than it was,” Mason said. “For the fans, I just want them to come in and get blown away by some of the history that they see. For the kids who are coming here and seeing people of color playing hockey, it might inspire them to want to pick up the game.”

As the day came to a close, both Bolden and O’Ree had encouraging words for the students that centered around dedication in the pursuit of their dreams.

“Work hard, because there’s no substitute for hard work,” O’Ree said. “You only get out of something what you put into it. So whatever you do, try to do it to the best of your ability.”

“Try to put yourself out of your comfort zone, and don’t let fear of doing anything hold you back,” Bolden added. “Take your experiences and learn from them. And try to never hold yourself back from being the best that you can be.”

I give full credit to Jenelyn Russo for this article

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Source: Jenelyn Russo- Hockey Pioneers O’Ree, Bolden Inspire Students at Anaheim School

Photos by The Anaheim Ducks

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