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City of Buffalo Press Releases

Posted on: October 30, 2021

Mayor Brown, PAL & BCBSWNY Pay Tribute To Val James, First Black Player in NHL

Seal of the City of Buffalo

Buffalo, NY - Mayor Byron W. Brown, joined by The Police Athletic League of Buffalo (PAL), the Buffalo Sabres Foundation and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York (BCBSWNY), today hosted a special tribute honoring legendary African American Hockey Player Valmore Edwin James at the Hennepin Community Center, located on Ludington Street in Buffalo’s Lovejoy District. On November 1, 1981, Val James became the first African American to play in the NHL. He is also a former professional ice hockey left winger, as well as a defenseman, who played two seasons in the National Hockey League for the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs. Today’s event also included the unveiling of a $50,000 project that includes a new all-season ice rink at the Hennepin Community Center, as well as a new ice-skating program in honor of Mr. James’ achievements.

“On that special day back in 1981, Val James advanced the sport of hockey in a very important way,” stated Mayor Brown. “He took to the ice with the Buffalo Sabres and became the first Black American to play in the National Hockey League, and throughout his career, overcame stark racism that helped pave the way for other Black players born in the United States to enter the League. As we continue to create a more inclusive, equitable and just community in Buffalo, we honor Val for his achievements, as well as his continued support in creating opportunities for all City residents.”

In recognition of James’ achievements, the Buffalo Sabres Foundation is donating $10,000 to The Buffalo PAL CAN ICE ‘Learn to Skate’ program. A portion of these proceeds will also be invested into an Ice Skate Sharpener, equipment, and program expenses. In addition, The Buffalo Sabres today donated FREE tickets to PAL youth and families to attend the November 6, 2021 Buffalo Sabres vs. Detroit Red Wings game at KeyBank Center. The Anniversary of Val James will also be celebrated at this exciting home game!

“40 years ago, Val James became the first Black American player to play in the National Hockey League when he debuted for the Sabres on November 1, 1981,” said Rich Jureller, president of the Buffalo Sabres Foundation. “We are very proud to honor the importance of this anniversary by supporting the Buffalo PAL CAN ICE Learn to Skate program in recognition of Val James’ inspirational and groundbreaking achievement. We hope this program will help introduce the great game of hockey to many children in Buffalo for years to come.”

Highmark BCBSWNY is providing additional support for the PAL CAN ICE ‘Learn to Skate’ program. In addition, Highmark BCBSWNY gave away free warm winter gloves today to PAL youth who will be participating in the new ‘Learn to Skate’ program.

“In the City of Buffalo, access to healthy activity shouldn’t be weather dependent,” shared Dr. Michael Edbauer, president of Highmark BCBSWNY. “The synthetic rink will be a four-season asset that will introduce skating and hockey to youth in our community. We’re proud to support the Buffalo Police Athletic League’s efforts to keep children in our community healthy and active, all year round.”

Mayor Brown stated, “The lessons learned on this ice rink will be lessons in life. I thank the Police Athletic League of Buffalo and our generous funding partners and supporters for making the new ice rink at the Hennepin Community Center possible. The confidence and joy the rink, as well as the ‘Learn to Skate’ program, will bring to our young people is important, teaching them to sharpen their focus and stay balanced on and off the ice.”

Nekia Kemp, PAL Executive Director, stated, “The PAL Board of Directors and I are incredibly grateful to all of the Community Partners who have played a critical role and provided the capital that has allowed us to launch the new CAN ICE Skating program that will teach inner-city youth how to ice skate and enjoy this winter sport year-round in a safe and nurturing environment.”

Mayor Brown offered his deepest thanks to the following community partners for their support of this great project: The Buffalo Sabres Foundation, Highmark BCBSWNY, The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, James H. Cummings Foundation, The City of Buffalo’s Department of Parks and Recreation, The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, and Project Play WNY, and the Assist Foundation.

Sabretooth, the official Mascot of the Buffalo Sabres, was also on-site today, along with members of The Assist Foundation who performed an ice-skating demonstration for PAL youth and their families. The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy also donated various sized ice skates that will be utilized by children and teens who participate in the PAL ‘Learn to Skate’ program.

To learn about the new PAL Can Ice Skating Program, please visit:

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