Color of Hockey: Fort Dupont documentary set to premiere

The Fort Dupont Cannons will finally get to see themselves on screen in their hometown.

“The Cannons,” a documentary about the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club and its founder Neal Henderson, makes its long-delayed premiere in Washington, DC Sunday for players, coaches, alumni and their families to see.

The documentary, directed by Steven Hoffner and co-director/producer AJ Messier, had its US premiere at the DOC NYC film festival in New York in November.

Concerns about the coronavirus delayed scheduling a screening in the country’s capital. But the film’s producers, with support from the Washington Capitals, will be showing The Cannons at Washington’s THEARC Theater.

“I’m just really looking forward to bringing everyone together,” said Hoffner. “The fact is, many members, the alumni, Fort Dupont, the community, as much as they participated in the program and ours [documentary], it’s hard to get these guys in the same room at the same time. So it’s going to be really, really special.”

The premiere will get the Hollywood treatment, complete with red carpet celebrations, said Peter Robinson, director of youth hockey development for the Capitals.

“Having a movie like this that detail Neal’s story and the story of the Cannons is really important for hockey in general,” Robinson said, “but specifically for hockey in our market, for people to understand how ingrained the sport is has been in all of our churches, but especially in the black church.

“Having this film made and telling this story is one thing, but then being able to share it with everyone in this community is also very special.”

The documentary chronicles the longest-standing minority hockey club in North America, which Henderson, a former semi-professional player and US Air Force veteran, founded in 1978 in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the United States.

Henderson used hockey has a prism to teach boys and girls teamwork, discipline, perseverance, responsibility, and accountability for free.

He was a coach/father figure, a supervisor who takes time to make sure his players are doing well on and off the ice, and began doing it decades before it became the NHL’s mission and mantra.

Henderson was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 2019 for his work, becoming their first black inductee.

“It will be very exciting to see the film here and I hope it will be a refreshing reaction from my players and others,” said Henderson. “It’s going to be a surprising way to see some of the kids, the way some of them have to live, some of the things they have to deal with on a daily basis when some of them don’t have to deal with it, and hopefully Having sympathy for those who do.”

More than 1,500 players have donned the Cannons’ black, white and yellow jerseys, and some have done exceptional things both on and off the ice.

Graduate and assistant Ralph Featherstone, who joined the Cannons in the 1990s, went on to attend the US Naval Academy and became captain of the US hockey team in his senior year. He became a lieutenant colonel in the US Marines, was stationed in San Diego and now serves on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.

Marquise Cotten’s experience with the Cannons also led to coaching, first as an assistant at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, DC, and this season for Mason City of the North American 3 Hockey League.

Duante Abercrombie, a former Cannons player, is an assistant at Stevenson University, an NCAA Division III hockey program outside of Baltimore, and director of player achievement for the Washington Little Caps.

Abercrombie and Nathaniel Brooks, an assistant on the Ryerson University men’s ice hockey team in Toronto, are introduced in NHL Bound, a four-part series about their participation in an internship program at an Arizona Coyotes development camp in 2021.

Abercrombie said he can’t wait to see the Cannons’ story in cinemas on Sunday.

“My mom will be there, my grandparents will be there, my brother will be there,” he said. “I can’t tell you how excited all of the Cannons alumni, coaches and families are that they can actually experience it in DC, and actually at a pretty decent theater, I’m told.”

The Cannons has toured the United States since its New York debut. It has screened at the Cleveland International Film Festival, the North Carolina Black Film Festival in Wilmington, North Carolina, and the Thin Line Festival in Denton, Texas. It was screened at Los Angeles’ Pan African Film Festival on Friday, one of the largest black film festivals in the United States.

The documentary will have its Canadian premiere at the NorthwestFest International Documentary Film Festival on May 8 in Edmonton.

The aim of the film festival’s screenings is to gain a distributor so that “The Cannons” can be seen by a larger audience.

At the Washington premiere, the Cannons’ home field faces an uncertain future.

The Fort Dupont Ice Arena was scheduled to close for demolition in late February to make way for a single-slab replacement facility that the county government budgeted for more than $31 million in its fiscal 2022 budget. The new facility was scheduled to be completed in autumn 2023.

However, the process has stalled after members of the rink’s non-profit board objected to the demolition plan and raised concerns about the scale and cost of the project.

The Fort Dupont Ice Arena is the only indoor ice rink in Washington, DC Hoffner said he hopes showing The Cannons will help get the project back on track.

“I hope it creates an understanding of how important this rink is to this community,” he said. “I hope it creates an understanding of how important Coach Neal, the program, is to this community. It’s more than just an ice rink. It is a place of salvation for many of these children.”

Photos: Stephen Hoffner

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