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Noel Acton Named 2021-22 Winner of Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award

Noel Acton of Baltimore, Maryland, is the recipient of the 2021-22 Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award given "to an individual who - through the sport of hockey - has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society.

by NHL @NHL / NHL.com

Noel Acton of Baltimore, Maryland, is the recipient of the 2021-22 Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award presented by MassMutual, given "to an individual who - through the sport of hockey - has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society."

Fans submit candidates for the Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award at NHL.com/OReeAward. The three finalists, and ultimate winner, were determined by fan vote and weighted votes from Willie O'Ree, the NHL and MassMutual. 

Video: Noel Acton - Baltimore, Maryland

Acton is the founder of the Tender Bridge Foundation, a nonprofit that has supported more than 500 boys and girls in East Baltimore for 20 years. Focused on getting kids off the street and into sports programs, Noel and his team provide all levels of assistance including equipment, transportation, and meals, anything to help the kids succeed. The Foundation also runs the Baltimore Banners and Junior Banners hockey team, a safe space for at-risk youth to not only increase their chances of survival, but to become a positive influence in their community. 

"Noel gives back to his community in so many ways, on and off the ice. He embodies what this Award represents: generosity, selflessness, and altruism," said Willie O'Ree. "He has built his organization from scratch and for two decades he has positively impacted hundreds of lives, for no reason other than wanting to build a stronger, healthier community. Congratulations Noel and everyone at the Tender Bridge Foundation, well deserved."

"Today we celebrate those who, like Willie O'Ree, make a positive impact in their community, culture and society through the sport of hockey," said Jennifer Halloran, head of brand and marketing with MassMutual. "We are in awe of all the nominees and finalists who serve as a positive force and inspiring role model. Noel is an amazing example with his ability to leverage hockey as a safe space for personal growth and display his unconditional support for at-risk youth. He is very deserving of this honor."

Other finalists for this year's honor were Ryan Francis (Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia) who helped launch the 'Hockey Nova Scotia Indigenous Girls Hockey Program,' and Meredith Lang (Minneapolis, Minn.), co-founder of the Hockey Niñas and Minnesota Unbounded. Acton will receive a $25,000 USD prize and Francis and Lang will each receive a $5,000 USD prize, each of which will be donated to a charity of their respective choice.

The Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award presented by MassMutual honors former NHL forward Willie O'Ree, who on Jan. 18, 1958, became the first black player to compete in the League. O'Ree, who lost sight in his right eye at a young age, went on to play professional hockey for 21 years. For more than two decades he has served as the NHL's Diversity Ambassador, traveling across North America to schools and hockey programs to share his story and experiences as well as to promote messages of inclusion, dedication, and confidence. O'Ree has used hockey as a platform to build character and teach life skills and has used his influence to foster positive values through the sport. In 2018, O'Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. 

For more about the Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award, including past winners, click here.

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