National Hockey League linesman Shandor Alphonso and retired referee and linesman Jay Sharrers reflected on the impact of Willie O’Ree.
Both were in attendance – Alphonso as an on-ice official, Sharrers as an officiating manager – in Boston on Monday as O’Ree’s #22 was raised to the rafters.
Sharrers became the National Hockey League’s first black official when he took the ice on October 6, 1990, in Boston. Fitting, to have had his debut happen in the same city that saw a fellow first receive one of hockey’s highest honors. Sharrers later made the jump to refereeing, becoming the NHL’s first black referee when he wore the bands for Flyers vs. Panthers on April 3, 2001. Sharrers finished a career that spanned nearly three decades in the NHL having worked 1,149 regular season games along with 204 in the playoffs – including seven trips to the Stanley Cup Final.
“Following Willie’s story from when I was a young kid, all the challenges he had to overcome to make it to the NHL was very inspiring for someone like myself,” Sharrers said. “[He was] a man of unbelievable character and just someone you had the ultimate respect for.”
Alphonso made his NHL debut on October 17, 2014. The native of Orangeville, Ontario, has gone on to officiate 479 regular season and 15 playoff games.
“I had a great mentor and someone to look up to in Jay Sharrers. He was the first black official in the NHL. Without Willie, that opportunity wouldn’t have been available for Jay either,” Alphonso said. “In my humble opinion, this is the best game in the world. Without brave guys like Willie blazing a path for us, I may not have had the opportunity to do what I love so much.”
“I can only imagine how hard it was for him but he made it easier for each generation moving forward.”
Both have Willie O’Ree to thank.
“It means everything to me to be here tonight,” said Alphonso. “To experience this and be part of it. It’s amazing.”