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Color of Hockey: Dean 'unsung hero' at Fort Dupont

Quiet force has helped keep oldest minority-oriented youth hockey program going for four decades

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / Staff Writer

William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past seven years. Douglas joined in March and will be writing about people of color in the game. Today, he profiles Betty Dean of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club.

Betty Dean found herself in an unfamiliar place on Thursday: In the spotlight.

Dean was sitting at a table during the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Washington when ESPN SportsCenter anchor Steve Levy, the event's master of ceremonies, approached her and interviewed her about her impact with the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club.

She was there for Neal Henderson -- as always -- to witness the founder and coach of North America's oldest minority-oriented youth hockey program become the U.S. Hall's first black inductee.

"It's kind of hard to put it into words," the soft-spoken Dean said of her impact. "I love all the kids, and I love all the parents, we work well together, I think they love me, I hope. It's been a good trip. I've been there since 1982."

Henderson would have his moment of honor delivering his induction speech, Levy told Dean, "this is your turn, is there anything else you'd like to say?"

"Well, I think that's about it," she replied.

Classic Betty Dean.

Though Henderson has earned honors as the coach/teacher/father figure for the Fort Dupont Cannons, Dean has been at his side, the quiet force who has helped keep the program functioning for nearly four decades as an unpaid volunteer.

Dean is the bookkeeper, attendance-taker at practice, travel agent, banquet organizer, fruit sale arranger and chaperone all rolled into one. She's been a hockey mom to some 1,500 Fort Dupont players, many from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"She's a diamond in the rough" Henderson said "She's taken a lot of weight off me for laying out a whole line of ideas on how to run a trip, how to set it up, keeping my paperwork straight, handling the funds for me. She's my right-hand person. I call her my boss."

He used to call her classmate. Dean and Henderson have known each other since they were students together at Washington's Cardozo High School, now called Cardozo Educational Campus.

Henderson said Dean got involved with the Fort Dupont program, which he founded in 1978, when she helped arrange a team road trip in 1982.

"I think it was the first trip to Boston," Henderson said. "She did it, fell in love with the club, and here we are."

Lou Vairo, director of special projects for USA Hockey, said you can't talk about the Fort Dupont Cannons' success without mentioning Dean. 

It was Vairo who urged Levy to interview Dean during the induction ceremony to give her a moment of public recognition. The ceremony was will air on NHL Network on Dec. 26 at 6 p.m. ET.

Vairo, a U.S. Hockey Hall inductee in 2014 who served on the coaching staffs of the 1984 and 2002 U.S. men's Olympic hockey teams, said he believes that Dean is so instrumental to Fort Dupont's success that she's worthy of consideration for the Lester Patrick Trophy, awarded for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.

"I never just associate Fort Dupont with Neal alone -- it's always Neal and Betty," he said. "She likes the background. She just shows up and does her deal. She's not looking for anything, she's not looking for pats on the back. She just loves her community and the kids in it, and she likes hockey."

George Love, a Fort Dupont alum whose son, Javier, is currently the program, said Dean is the unsung backbone of the program.

"The program wouldn't have made it without the two of them together," Love said. "I remember when the teams took ski trips, Miss Dean, I never saw her out on the slopes, but she was there to have fun. But we always knew she had a very watchful eye for us."

John Cotten, whose son, Marquise, played for the Cannons, simply calls Dean "the straw that stirs the coffee.

"She and Coach Neal should walk into the Hall together because if you ever had anybody who meant so much to a program that went so unnoticed, Miss Dean is that person," said Cotten, director of the Purple Puck high school hockey tournament that plays at the Fort Dupont Ice Arena. "She's an ultra-hockey mom."

Photo Courtesy: AJ Messier

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