By Bryan Boggiano
Panthers Warrior Hockey hosted the Always Remember Never Forget Tournament at the Panthers IceDen over the weekend, bringing together first responders for a charity hockey tournament to honor the sacrifices of first responders on 9/11.
The tournament raises funds for the Panthers Warrior Hockey Program through ticket and merchandise sales, a bake sale, and a raffle. The final amount raised was not available at press time.
The organization helps injured, and disabled veterans play hockey and allows them to interact with one another both recreationally and therapeutically.
Participating teams came from south and central Florida, including law enforcement officers, firefighters, and veterans.
Teams included Pembroke Pines Fire Rescue, Bomberos Fire Rescue One and Bomberos Fire Rescue Two, South Florida’s Finest One and South Florida’s Finest Two, Central Florida Warriors, and Panther Warriors One and Two.
The Central Florida Warriors and Bomberos Fire Rescue were the tournament winners.
The Panther Warrior Program is inspired by retired U.S. Navy Seal Team 10 Member Gabriel Accardi, who wanted the Florida Panthers to host a warrior program for injured service members. Accardi died immediately before the group’s establishment in 2019.
According to board member Wayne Whitmore, the tournament was a great way to bring together law enforcement, fire personnel, and veterans.
Among the tournament participants, 9/11 has a lot of significance. Whitmore’s friend, retired Engine 205 Ladder 118 Brooklyn fireman John Cipriano, is one of his inspirations for the tournament.
An image depicting Ladder 188’s fire truck racing across the Brooklyn Bridge has since become one of the most widely known from that day. Six firefighters were on board. They all perished at the World Trade Center site.
Through his friend and his experience as a first responder, he understands that 9/11 elicits strong memories. Whitmore also said the health effects from that day, including cancer and various mental health conditions, continue to affect survivors and first responders.
“Even though it’s 22 years later, that stuff never goes away,” Whitmore said.
Whitmore said the tournament and the Panthers Hockey Warrior Program unite people and remind them of first responders’ sacrifices to keep their constituents and country safe.
He said 9/11, in particular, highlighted this point.
“They had no idea what they were getting themselves into,” Whitmore said. “They just went there and helped.”
Even though 9/11 happened 22 years ago, Whitmore said there are plenty of lessons the country should remember from that day. He saw people unite, putting religious, political, and racial differences aside to fight for a common cause. Civilians gave first responders food and water. People recognized the work and sacrifices of first responders.
“It really showed what the American spirit is capable of,” Whitmore said. “The most important thing people can remember [from 9/11] is coming together to help [others] in need.”