Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Some Good News


1st black in hockey visits kids

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        The struggling Hockey KIDS program, started in 1997 by Jack and Chris Cheatham of Miami Township, Clermont County, will get a big boost April 6 while recognizing a piece of black history.

        Willie O'Ree, the first black player in the National Hockey League, will visit with the group during the Mighty Ducks' final game of the season at Cincinnati Gardens.

        Mr. O'Ree broke the color barrier in the NHL in January 1958 with the Boston Bruins.

        He is now youth program director for the USA Hockey/NHL Diversity Task Force.

        Reached in Columbus, Tuesday while on a speaking tour, he praised the Cincinnati program and the work the Cheathams have done to keep the program going.

        Mr. O'Ree visits the 33 youth programs of the NHL, gives speeches at schools and conducts fund raisers for the programs. This will be his third trip to Cincinnati.

        Mr. O'Ree said he did not think he suffered as much racism when he broke the color line in the NHL as did Jackie Robinson, who did the same thing in Major League Baseball in 1947.

        “Most of my games were played in northern states, whereas many of Mr. Robinson's games were in southern states. That might have made a difference,” Mr. O'Ree said.

        Hockey KIDS, which stands for Kids in Dire Straits, is a part of the program Mr. O'Ree directs.

        Kids ages 7-17 from around the Tristate gather each Saturday at the Cincinnati Gardens with volunteers who give them uniforms, sticks and shoes and teach them to skate and play hockey.

        Even kids who don't have the $40 season fee are outfitted.

        Mrs. Cheatham said the program expects to establish a hockey league with up to 16 teams for next season.

        Today kids in the program will get a chance to scrimmage during the intermission of the game between the Mighty Ducks and Milwaukee Admirals at 7:35 p.m. at the Cincinnati Gardens.

        Hockey KIDS also has received support from former Cincinnati Bengals place kicker Doug Pelfrey, who donated 50 helmets to the program.

        “That sure helped a lot because we didn't have the money to buy them,” Mrs. Cheatham said.

        The program has grown from about 40 kids to 87.

        “We expect to have about 200 kids next year,” she said.

        Her husband, Jack, is head coach and president. A son, Andy, 20, is an assistant coach. Their youngest son, James, 15, grew up in the program.

        “We have come a long way. We have some kids who come in the program who cannot skate,” she said.

        Many of them have learned how to skate on Saturday mornings at the Cincinnati Gardens skating rink, next to where the Mighty Ducks play.

        Allen Howard's “Some Good News” column runs Sunday-Friday. If you have suggestions about outstanding achievements, or people who are uplifting to the Tristate, let him know at 768-8362, at ahoward@enquirer.com or by fax at 768-8340.

       



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