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Breaking the Ice: Hockey ambassador says sport is becoming more diverse and inclusive | Sport


Breaking the Ice: Hockey ambassador says sport is becoming more diverse and inclusive

FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) – Carman-Ainsworth senior William Walker's love for hockey started when he could barely skate.

“I was just nervous my first time. Skating, little two-inch skates. I didn't know what to do,” Walker said as he looked at photos of his first time on the ice. “But I still went out there and just did me.”

This month, another dream of Walker's came true: He signed to play hockey for Adrian College.

“I'm proof that you can go anywhere,” Walker explains. “It doesn't matter what social norms you have. You have a chance to succeed in the sport of hockey. No matter what color, gender or race you are.”

As William signed, the man who helped William put on the first pair of skates was in the crowd, Rico Phillips.

This is what he always envisioned hockey to be.

“We're trying to make a huge impact,” Phillips said. “It took a lot of time to get here. But I see that people are starting to become much more aware.”

Rico started the Flint Inner City Youth Hockey Program in 2010 as a way for young players to get started in the game he loves.

In 2020, Phillips became the OHL's Director of Cultural Diversity and Inclusion.

“We started the journey through the tunnel,” Phillips said. “By that I mean we've opened minds, opened eyes to what diversity really means, what inclusion really means.”

Since joining the league, Phillips says the biggest jump in diversity he's seen has to do with the players.

That representation can be seen today as some of the best players in the league are minorities, such as Zayne Parekh of Saginaw Defenseman of the Year.

“Even at the minor hockey level, we see a much more diverse player pool at the minor hockey level,” said Brodie Barrick, OHL's director of player recruitment and player services. “I think it's huge for the game of hockey as a whole and also for the work that Rico has done.”

Barrick played for the Sarnia Sting from 2012 to 2014

He says there has been a change in the OHL in recent years.

“Without a doubt, the work that Rico has done has allowed us to see more of these minority players and have opportunities that they may not have had before,” Brodie said.

According to the 2022-2023 OHL Diversity Report, 89 percent of teams had an ethnic minority player on the roster.

Phillips says creating a more inclusive environment in OHL arenas, both on and off the ice, was phase one of his plan.

The second phase is to effect change in the OHL front offices.

“There are so many people from coaches who are black and brown from some influences,” Phillips said. “Different cultural backgrounds, they are starting to have a huge impact on the sport. We want to offer them the opportunity to one day be behind the bench of the OHL as well.”




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