AMHERST – Bill Riley, Mark MacFarlane and Craig Martin got to do something few young men get to do.
They played professional hockey, won championships and have become role models for other young hockey players to look up to. And they did facing racism, discrimination and bigotry.
Their efforts were recognized in Amherst on Wednesday with their induction into the Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s very rare to think that three black men from a small community like Amherst, N.S. can make it into the pros,” said Riley, who was the third black behind Willie O’Ree and Mike Marson and the first black Nova Scotian to play in the National Hockey League. “This is a huge honour to be recognized this way.”
Riley, who played with Washington and Winnipeg in the NHL, thanked the Amherst Ramblers, Keith Blenkhorn and Moe Bent for setting him on the way to the NHL. And he thanked his family for being with him along the way.
“Behind every successful athlete is the strong support of family,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”
MacFarlane, who lives in Maine, played in the Western Hockey League with Swift Current – where he won a Memorial Cup, before playing with his hometown Ramblers, the Acadia Axemen and the Quad City Mallards of the United Hockey League.
He won five championships during his hockey career.
“I had the honour of playing hockey at a high level for a very long time,” MacFarlane said. “I had great coaches, great teachers, my mother and other parents who were always there for me. I had the opportunity to play on some very good teams and I always seemed to find myself on winning teams.”
MacFarlane said his mother should be inducted into the hall of fame for the sacrifices she made so he could play while he also thanked Riley and Hal Davidson for coaching him and preparing him to play at a higher level of competition.
Martin, who played in the NHL with Winnipeg and the Florida Panthers as well as in the AHL with Moncton and Adirondack, said he really didn’t know how he’d feel when it came time to accept his award.
“As I stand here before you tonight I’m amazed at the level of support in this community,” Martin said. “I think about all the people who came before me and made it possible for me to get to where I was. I had a lot of peaks and valleys, but I was always able to get back up and community had a lot to do with that.”
The night also saw four individuals and a hockey team honoured.
The late Bob Edgett of Sackville, N.B. was presented the Community Advocate Award posthumously, Lynn Jones was presented a humanitarian award, Elizabeth Cooke-Sumbu accepted the Lifetime Community Support Award and the late Janiva Willis was presented the Visionary and Community Support Award posthumously.
The Amherst Royals, who played in the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes and won the league championship in 1922, was presented the Pioneer Award.
In accepting the award for his father, Ben Edgett said his dad taught young people to respect others in the community and praised him for making a difference in the lives of so many.
“Bob would have been 88 this year and still to this day he would be pleased that so many young men and women have continued to participate in the boxing club,” Ben said. “Bob believed that by teaching respect, discipline and a sense of community, the young people who went through the club could change the world for the better.”
Tony Ince, the minister for the public service commission and African Nova Scotian Affairs, recognized the Multi-Sport Hall of Fame’s founder Arif Khatib for establishing the organization to honour individuals who were determined to overcome challenges and barriers to achieve their goals.
He also congratulated the three inductees for rising above the racism and discrimination to succeed.
“You never let that stop you because you had a love of the game,” he said. “The three of your are individuals that younger people who are just moving into the game can stand on your shoulders.”