Flint Firefighter, Coach, and Mentor
May 15, 2019 (Segment 2)
Flint area sports have long been characterized by an egalitarian approach, and although travel sports and pay-to-play are threatening to change that dynamic forever, there is one sport that has long-since been a tougher nut to crack for inner city kids of modest means: ice hockey. The costs and complexity involved in playing the sport have made it challenging for many to access it, and this is particularly true in Flint’s black community. Hockey is historically not a diverse sport, and if you had to pick one place where that lack of diversity has been particularly glaring, it’s not a stretch to say that one of the greatest sports towns ever - Flint - might be a good place to start looking for answers. Well to answer that bell you’ll find one Rico Phillips.
A Flint Southwestern Colt, and current Quartermaster in the Flint Fire Department, he took a shine to hockey at an early age, and decided that unwritten rules of who ought to be playing certain sports just didn’t apply to him. But he didn’t stop there. He founded the Flint Inner City Youth Hockey Program in 2010 and hasn’t looked back since. It’s a landmark program that offers completely FREE ice hockey to any Flint kids who want to give it a go. Supported by generous grants from places like Perani Arena and Perani Sports, and donated time by area high school hockey players, and veterans of the city leagues, including former Flint Central Indian hockey players like local business owner and painter Larry Bonham, he has developed the league in to a truly historic program.
Rico teaches a lot more than just hockey. Leadership skills, character building, integrity, sportsmanship, and cultural diversity are all part of the mix. During the most recent nine week course Willie O’ Ree visited to get a first hand look at the program. O’Ree is the first black hockey player in the NHL, playing forward for the Boston Bruins, he is the first to crack the color line in hockeys’ premiere league, and is an iconic figure in both the cultural milieu, and sports alike. As a result of this Phillips is now one of three finalists for the coveted Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, which will be revealed at the 2019 NHL Awards held at Mandalay Bay, in Las Vegas, on June 19th.
It’s just another example of history meeting sports, meeting cultural change and progress, all under the banner of Flintstone RESILIENCE. In other words….a perfect guest for “Fish and the Flint Chronicles” and a true member of the Flint Chronicles Hall of Fame