Today, the National Hockey League announced Kelsey McGuire, Executive Director and Founder of Philadelphia Blind Hockey, has been selected as one of six finalists, three in the United States and three in Canada, for the 2024 Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award. The award is presented annually to "an individual who - through the sport of hockey - has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society."

McGuire is the first-ever individual from the Philadelphia region to be named a finalist.

“I am extremely honored to be selected as a finalist for the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award. Mr. O’Ree is an incredible role model as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador. His message of inclusion means a lot to me as a teacher of the Visually Impaired,” said McGuire. “As the founder of Philadelphia Blind Hockey, I use the passion that I developed as an educator to make sure our athletes are awarded with the opportunity to play the sport of hockey. Mr. O’Ree had to hide his visual impairment early in his NHL career, but today’s blind hockey community gives players the confidence to embrace their disability and to show others that it will not prevent them from learning to play ice hockey and showing that they belong.”

A native of Horsham, Pennsylvania, McGuire earned her bachelor’s degree in special education for Visual Impairments (Ages Birth to 21 Years) in December 2017 from Kutztown University and became a teacher at Overbrook School for the Blind shortly after. In 2019, McGuire accompanied her students to a special event as the school partnered with the Philadelphia Flyers to provide the students with an opportunity to try hockey. Having witnessed a high demand for a Blind Hockey program in Philadelphia, McGuire jumped at the opportunity to create the program after being provided the opportunity by USA Hockey in 2021. By spring of 2022, Philadelphia Blind Hockey officially became a non-profit 501C3 and the 19th Blind Hockey team in the United States. The program kicked off its inaugural season by partnering with the Philadelphia Flyers to host their first ever Try Blind Hockey event in March 2022.

“The entire Flyers organization is incredibly proud of Kelsey and the difference she is making in the Philadelphia hockey community,” said Blair Listino, President of Flyers Charities. “One of the Flyers’ core values is growing the game of hockey to new and diverse communities and Kelsey is doing just that with the amazing opportunities she is providing to members of the visually impaired community right here in Philadelphia. The Flyers are proud to support Philadelphia Blind Hockey and all of us at the Flyers are rooting for Kelsey.”

Under McGuire’s leadership, the program has now introduced dozens of members of the visually impaired community in the Philadelphia region to the game of hockey. The program is open to players of all ages with visual impairments and strives to promote and emphasize the development of sportsmanship, team spirit, increased confidence, pride and team unity. McGuire continues to identify opportunities for growing the program and continuing to promote inclusivity in the game of hockey.

The Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award honors former NHL forward Willie O’Ree, who on Jan. 18, 1958, became the first black player to compete in the League. O’Ree, who lost sight in his right eye at a young age, went on to play professional hockey for 21 years. His perseverance is unrivaled, and his impact on the game and the lives of young players still is felt today. Both the United States and Canada winners will receive a $25,000 USD prize and the four remaining finalists each will receive a $5,000 USD prize, each of which will be donated to a charity of their respective choice.

The finalists, and ultimate winner, are determined by fan vote and weighted votes from Willie O’Ree and the NHL. Public voting to is open now on X and NHL.com. The contest ends on Sunday, May 19 at 11:59 p.m. Learn more about Philadelphia Blind Hockey here.