"YOU GUYS are too slow! Come on, move it, Rick, move it!" yells O'Neal (Neal) Henderson. His instructions boom across the rink over the chilling sound of steel blades scraping slick ice, and the crack-thud of hockey sticks slapping pucks and padding.
A metal whistle clenched between his teeth never seems to obstruct his words. Coach Henderson knows when and when not to blow the whistle. It's second nature to a man who, for nearly 30 of his 48 years, has taught hundreds of boys ice hockey, as well as other sports.
And like the whistle, hockey is merely a tool to teach these 25 inner-city 13-ore than recreation -- namely, how to strive and achieve.
A supervisor for the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, Henderson believes kids who play hockey are a different breed and a little special.
"A kid has to want to play hockey," he says. "It's got to come from inside. It's not like basketball where someone throws the ball to you and says, 'Let's play.' There's got to be something extra here."
Henderson was born in St. Croix, the Virgin Islands, an unlikely place for a hockey player and coach to get his start. At age nine, he moved with his parents to St. Catharines, Ontario in Canada, where he learned to skate and play hockey before moving to Washington. He was a member of the Cardozo High School hockey team and later played defense for the Salt Lake City Seagulls and the old Washington Chiefs, both semi-professional teams. He has also helped coach hockey teams at Northwestern High School and DeMatha High School in Hyattsville.
Several years ago he began coaching the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club's Bantam "B" team. He spends at least two hours a week on the ice, teaching youngsters to skate and play hockey. And then he puts in another 13 hours, on average, helping them become better students and better people.
He insists that his players maintain at least a "C" average in school, in order to play on the team. If a kid is having difficulty with a certain subject, the coach helps find him a tutor.
Discipline in school work and physical discipline in hockey complement one another, says Henderson. In hockey, "you're doing about five things at once," says the coach. "You have to skate, to control the puck, to be able to watch the defense and then pass to the right man, all while keeping your wits about you. I like it because it's a team sport, but it's still an individual sport. Each man has a responsibility."
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Hockey can be very expensive, forcing a huge financial responsibility on young players as well. Members pay $25 in monthly dues during the season, and a pair of hockey boots and blades can cost close to $200. Players help out with raffles, bake sales and other fundraisers. During home games at Fort Dupont, proceeds from the rink's concession stand also help defray the costs of ice time, uniforms and equipment. Some members are helped by scholarships from KTM Management Inc., a skating instruction operation; and RMSI Management, which runs the rinks at Fort Dupont, Liberty Plaza and the new Metro rink in Bethesda. "Everyone on the team does his share, and I make a donation myself to help keep it running," says the coach.
Through it all, his Fort Dupont has been a winner. "I'm kind of proud of them," says the coach. This year's team includes eight players from Henderson's pee-wee team (9- olds), which several years ago won the Eastern regional Championship in open league compeition held in Binghamton, N.Y.
Henderson, of course, won't accept too much praise for his work.
"I'm only giving back what was given to me as a kid," he says.