All Stars Helping Kids Presents Inaugural Bill Walsh Champion of Change Award to NHL Ambassador Willie O’Ree

By BASN Wire Services
Updated: September 26, 2007

REDWOOD CITY, Ca. – All Stars Helping Kids, the charitable organization founded by NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, announced the establishment of the Bill Walsh Champion of Change Award to recognize transcending achievement in sports.

The inaugural award will be given to Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the history of the National Hockey League, during the All Stars Sports, Business and Philanthropy luncheon Thursday at the NASDAQ Marketsite. The event begins at 12:30.

The award was developed in memory of Hall of Fame football coach Bill Walsh, who died of leukemia July 30, 2007. Each year, the award will recognize an individual or an organization whose tenacity of purpose helps pave paths for others.

Walsh’s efforts in the advancement of minority coaches were legendary and prompted the Fritz Pollard Alliance to bestow Walsh with its highest honor in 2003.

Born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, O’Ree became the first black player in NHL history when he debuted with the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens on January 18, 1958.

This historic event paved the way for future players of diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds to compete in hockey. O’Ree’s long professional career spanned 21 seasons, mostly in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Los Angeles Blades and the San Diego Gulls. He played 45 games for the Bruins from 1958 to 1961.

O’Ree was named Director of Youth Development for NHL Diversity in 1998 and has continued his efforts to ensure hockey is accessible to all. During the past 10 years, O’Ree has educated youth, advocating the message that “Hockey is for Everyone” regardless of color, gender and economic situation.

He has been the inspiration for more than 40,000 kids who have gone through NHL Diversity programs. In honor of Willie O’Ree’s 50th Anniversary celebration, the NHL will donate $25,000 to All Stars Helping Kids, Ice Hockey In Harlem (New York, NY) and Score Boston (Boston, MA) for the Willie O’Ree 50th Anniversary celebration in Boston on January 19, 2008.

“I am honored that All Stars Helping Kids has made me the inaugural recipient of the Bill Walsh Champion of Change Award,” Willie O’Ree said. “Through the All Stars Helping Kids and NHL Diversity programs we can work to provide positive opportunities to thousands of children.”

“Willie O’Ree is the ideal recipient for the inaugural Bill Walsh Award, because his courage, talent and determination laid the foundation for others to play the game,” Lott said. “Bill Walsh was a genius not because of his Xs and Os but because he made the game more inclusive”

“We felt it was important to establish an award in his honor to reward great achievements in sports and to recognize those who truly make a meaningful difference for others. Willie made history in Boston and 50 years later with the NHL he continues to provide opportunity to others, especially children.”

In 1987, Walsh established the Minority Coaching Fellowship Program to enhance the skills and opportunities for minority coaches. The NFL later adopted it as a league-wide program that continues today. Walsh led the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl titles and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

About All Stars Helping Kids

Founded in 1989, the mission of All Stars Helping Kids is to create opportunities for disadvantaged children by promoting a safe, healthy and rigorous learning environment. All Stars’ team approach to philanthropy pools the resources of athletes, corporations and individuals to provide financial and technical assistance to high-quality academic and physical enrichment programs working with disadvantaged children.

About NHL Diversity

NHL Diversity is a part of the NHL Foundation, the National Hockey League’s charitable and community relations organization, and a major component of the league’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative. Founded in 1995, NHL Diversity provides support and unique programming to not-for-profit youth hockey organizations across North America that are committed to offering economically disadvantaged boys and girls of all ages opportunities to play hockey. Since its inception, NHL Diversity has exposed more than 40,000 boys and girls to unique hockey experiences.