They say it takes one person believing in something or someone to truly make a difference.
That reason is why HEROS is able to be such a positive force within the communities the program serves. It is also the very same reason why Executive Director of HEROS Kevin Hodgson was awarded the 2021 NHL Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award. “It’s an everybody at HEROS award,” Kevin said. “All of us together are just trying to make sure hockey is accessible to kids. It shows [what happens] when we all come together to do the right thing and shows we have a responsibility to keep doing what we’re doing.”
How it all came together
Kevin was nominated for the 2021 NHL Willie O’Ree Community Hero award by SuperHeros player Naiya. Since the SuperHeros Edmonton chapter was created in 2019, Naiya hasn’t missed a single session, in fact she was the first player to sign up. Even when HEROS had switched to off-ice Zoom sessions, Naiya was present for all 200 Zoom calls.
The Willie O’Ree award is given to someone “who through the game of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society.” Naiya, as part of her nomination letter and with the help of her parents, wrote “Coach Kevin is the kindest, funniest, best coach and person in the world and deserves an award for being AWESOME!”
The nomination letter goes on to say:
“Coach Kevin has helped to create hockey teams all over Canada for children from all walks of life. Our team, the SuperHeros, is for children with disabilities. These kids love the game of hockey but never thought they would be able to play due to their physical and cognitive problems.
Kevin helped to create these special teams and helped organize a way hockey could adapt to work for our kids rather than trying to make the kids change for the game. He proved that hockey is for everyone and that when there is a will, the right person can find a way. His positivity, kindness, dedication and involvement has changed our child’s life for the better and so many other children and their families as well.
It is not just about hockey. Being on these teams helps the kids make friends when they often can’t do that in everyday life and helps families find support and understanding from being a part of this amazing community. The impact on our life has been incredible and we can’t express how grateful we are to Kevin and this program.”
We at HEROS certainly couldn’t agree more.
For Naiya, Kevin is a role model in her life and in a letter she described the moment she learned she would be the one to present Kevin with the trophy:
“’Hi Naiya’ says a kind voice of a lady over the phone. ‘This is Wura from the NHL. We talked on Zoom when you nominated Coach Kevin for the Willie O’Ree Award.’
I gasped; I was so surprised that she was calling me!
‘Naiya because you nominated Kevin and you helped him with voting so much, we thought you might want to present him his trophy when it is ready.’
I was so stunned I didn’t say anything at first then I screamed ‘YES!’ in excitement. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
Before I knew it, summer was over and we were back to online school. Grade 5 was fun so far but a bit hard. I got to start hockey again this week, it was already October, and I couldn’t wait.
Ding dong, ding dong… the doorbell rang. My Dad went to the front door and said thank you to someone and carried a ginormous box into the house.
‘Where is that from?’ My Mom asked, looking up from the work her and my brother were doing.
He shrugged. None of us knew. Dad took a closer look at the label on the box and read aloud,
‘From the NHL…Do you know what this is Naiya?!’
I said ‘Is it the trophy???!!’
‘I think so!’ said Dad.”
The award was announced on June 16th at Hockey Night in Canada, and the trophy was presented in October during a SuperHeros on-ice session.
“It was totally surreal,” Kevin said. “I couldn’t believe it was happening. Norm and I know Willie well and the struggles that he went through and to have my name attached to something like that was unbelievable. It means more that it was one of the kids who nominated me. Naiya is proud of being a HERO each and every week. Look at what Naiya was able to do, it shows that kids have a voice and we should listen to what they have to say.”