WASHINGTON -- Pat LaFontaine has been named to the National Fitness Foundation Board of Directors, and the Hockey Hall of Famer will serve as the board's liaison to the President's Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition.
"It's a tremendous honor," LaFontaine said Thursday at Washington's Fort Dupont Ice Arena, where Ivanka Trump helped unveil the White House's national youth sports strategy. "Sports and hockey have been a stepping stone to what I do today. The character-building you learn from sports, the life skills you learn from sports, is really its greatest value."
The National Fitness Foundation is the only congressionally chartered nonprofit organization that focuses on health and fitness. It develops corporate partnerships to help expand youth sports participation in the United States and is the official charity of the President's Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition.
LaFontaine's addition to the board and his liaison role will give hockey a presence on bodies that will help draw awareness to the importance of sports to the development and well-being of America's youth.
"To have a figure like him, especially as a hockey fan and hockey player, is awesome," said Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson, who attended the Fort Dupont event with teammate Tom Wilson.
LaFontaine, the League's vice president, hockey development and community affairs, said his work on the NHL's Declaration of Principles made him a good fit for the National Fitness Foundation's board.
The declaration, crafted by 17 hockey stakeholders and unveiled in September 2017, advances policies, programs and initiatives to create the best possible experience for the entire hockey community. It states, in part, that all hockey programs should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status.
"All sports, but being in the hockey family, I'm proud to be part of the hockey family for all that it stands for -- the finesse of the game, the excitement of the game, the love of the game," he said, "but more importantly, what the game gives you: the life skills, the character, the development, the values that the sport stands for."
LaFontaine brings a wealth of knowledge to the foundation as a former player and youth hockey coach. Selected by the New York Islanders in the first round (No. 3) of the 1983 NHL Draft, LaFontaine had 1,013 points (468 goals, 545 assists) in 865 games for the Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers from 1983-84 to 1997-98.
Born in St. Louis but raised in Waterford, Michigan, LaFontaine was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame and the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.
LaFontaine said he's eager to use his position on the National Fitness Foundation board to try to reverse the decline in youth participation in team sports.
A 2017 study by the Sports & Fitness Association and the Aspen Institute found that the number of children between ages 6 and 12 who participated in team sports dropped from almost 45 percent in 2008 to 37 percent in 2016.
Thirty-two percent of U.S. children are overweight or obese, according to the Fitness Foundation's website, and $117 billion is spent annually in health care costs associated with physical inactivity.
"I was concerned with some of the stats coming out with all sports where we're losing 70 percent of all kids in all sports at [age] 13," he said. "That become concerning to me because values start at home, but school and sports are vehicles to reinforce those values. So to have this position, to be part of the National Fitness Foundation is a tremendous honor -- and also a liaison to the President's Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition -- I'm excited about that role."