The city of Flint, Michigan, may be better known lately for its poisonous water supply and the crisis that has resulted. But on the ice, things are much more positive.
For the second straight season, the Flint Inner City Youth Hockey Program successfully filled all 27 slots for its nine-week instructional session built around USA Hockey’s American Development Model. Ice time and equipment was completely paid for, so all the kids had to worry about was learning how to play hockey.
Based at the Dort Federal Event Center, the program inspired several kids to continue playing beyond the nine weeks.
“Things are extremely stable for something that I wasn’t sure how well it was going to go over when it first started; if I’d have the type of support,” noted Rico Phillips, the program director. “So for our second straight year, we had 27 participate. Twenty-one completed the program, and of the 21, four of them went on to play in the spring hockey program, through additional sponsorship.”
There was also some continued interest from the first group of kids to go through the program last season. Two of those players went on to play house-level hockey.
“They played a full season this year,” Phillips said. “[They played in] some tournaments, and what’s really cool, the one father ended up becoming the scorekeeper, working the penalty box. Now they are in their communities, they talk about their fun playing hockey, and each week they’re at the rink and wear their jerseys to school, like every other kid that plays.”
The program is made possible by a grant from the United Way, which stipulates that all of the kids must be residents of Flint. A local sporting goods retailer generously donated the hockey equipment.
And for the kids that decided to continue playing, Phillips has arranged for their expenses to also be paid through some private sponsors, since spring hockey falls outside the established program.
“I let them borrow the equipment for the spring league, so they don’t have to purchase anything,” Phillips said. “But with that said, we’ve got the kids that have gone on, those two kids [from last year’s program] were also sponsored this year by their associations. Obviously they had to pay their way to go to tournaments and stuff, but their monthly ice bill, there was no cost.”
For kids from the inner city with hardly any prior exposure to hockey, and who could never afford to play the sport on their own, this is a big deal.
“It’s hard for people to believe in the hockey community, but it was difficult to give away free hockey,” Phillips recounted. “Hockey is so far removed from our inner city that kids can’t even relate to it. I grew up in the city of Flint. My neighborhood actually had an outdoor ice rink. That’s where I learned how to skate. None of that exists any more.”
Phillips also has the program affiliated with USA Hockey, thanks to some help from Bob Yohe, USA Hockey’s Michigan District registrar. That has fostered a sense among the kids that they are part of a much wider hockey community.
“They covered all of our kids’ registrations for the year, and each of the kids started receiving USA Hockey Magazine,” Phillips said of USA Hockey. “It gave the kids a feeling of belonging to the sport.”
Another positive aspect of the program has been the involvement of local high school teams. Phillips would have a different nearby suburban high school team come in each week to help provide guidance during the on-ice sessions, and he was thrilled at the results.
“What’s really cool about that is there’s this ‘growing moment,’ because these high schoolers come from suburban communities, and they’re working with kids that look different than them, talk different than them, but what’s great is that doesn’t matter,” Phillips explained. “All that is thrown out once both sets of kids hit the ice. It’s been really enriching from that perspective. Kids from the inner city are meeting teenagers, and obviously, the high schoolers know how to play and it’s a great way for them to give back to the sport.”
After all the hardships the people of Flint have endured lately, Phillips is happy to shed a little light on something positive in his hometown.
“It is important to note that with the water crisis that we have, and there’s no end in sight to be quite honest with you, that we continue to do positive things to help these kids have a normal life,” Phillips said. “I’m a firefighter for the city of Flint and I’m right in the middle of how this crisis unfolded, and all I can say is that my role is to be as positive as I can, because there is so much negativity right now. It’s really key. Our city is under the microscope for the bad things that are happening and I’d certainly like to show some of the good things, too.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc