Flint’s Rico Phillips wins NHL’s O’Ree Community Hero Award
Rico Phillips, standing in the back left wearing a white helmet, poses with participants of the Flint Inner City Youth Hockey Program, which he founded in 2010.
Rico Phillips has been introducing inner-city kids to hockey for almost a decade.
The Flint firefighter was rewarded for his work Wednesday night when he won the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award at the NHL Awards ceremony in Las Vegas, which was televised live on the NBC Sports Network.
Phillips, 50, founded the Flint Inner City Youth Hockey Program in 2010 and serves as its director.
For the past six years, the program has provided the children of Flint the opportunity to play hockey for free.
Throughout the nine-week program, high school hockey teams and parents provide mentorship and assistance on and off the ice. The program concludes each year with participants playing a game at Dort Federal Event Center.
“I encourage those who are making a difference to continue to be the change and for others to join the movement,” Phillips said during his acceptance speech.
Phillips also thanked his wife, Sandy, who was in the audience, for her support, saying she's the person "who gives me strength, courage and confidence as well as helping to keep my feet on the ground and my head above the clouds."
Phillips fell in love with hockey while growing up in Flint and still plays in a local men's league while also working as an official.
The other finalists were Anthony Benavides, the director of Southwest Detroit’s Clark Park Coalition, and Tammi Lynch of Ellicott City, MD, founder of Players Against Hate.
O'Ree, the NHL’s first black player who is currently the NHL diversity ambassador and a 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, and his committee chose the finalists from a pool of 10 semifinalists.
An online vote by fans determined the winner.