TAMPA BAY - The Tampa Bay Lightning and National Hockey League honored Willie O'Ree as the 24th Lightning Community Hero this season during the second match of today's 2018 Honda All-Star Game at AMALIE Arena.
O'Ree, who received a $100,000 donation from the Lightning Community Heroes program and the National Hockey League, will donate the funds to support the mission of the Hockey is For Everyone (HIFE) initiative.
On January 18, 1958, Willie O'Ree became the first black player to compete in the NHL when he took the ice for the Boston Bruins. O'Ree, who lost sight in his right eye at a young age, went on to play professional hockey for 21 years. His perseverance is unrivaled, and his impact on the game and the lives of young players is still felt today.
Since 1998, O'Ree has served as the NHL's Diversity Ambassador, traveling across North America to schools and hockey programs to share his story and experiences and to promote messages of inclusion, dedication and self-belief.
A portion of the Community Hero funding will go towards establishing the first official Hockey is For Everyone program in Tampa Bay. This new program will provide youngsters from diverse backgrounds throughout the community an opportunity to play hockey while instilling core values of the game including teamwork, respect, dedication and inclusion.
In addition to establishing this new HIFE program, the balance of the funding will be used to support the growth and sustainability of dozens of existing non-profit HIFE programs throughout North America to help underprivileged, marginalized and disadvantaged children build confidence, character and life skills.
Willie O'Ree becomes the 295th Lightning Community Hero since Jeff and Penny Vinik introduced the Lightning Community Hero program in 2011-12 with a $10 million, five-season commitment to the Tampa Bay community. Through this evening's game, in total, the Lightning Community Hero program has granted $14.85 million to more than 400 different nonprofits in the Greater Tampa Bay area. During the summer of 2016, the Vinik's announced that the community hero program will give away another $10-million over the next five seasons.