Rico Phillips is this year’s recipient of the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, given “to an individual who – through the game of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society.”
Fans submit candidates for the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, with Willie O’Ree – in consultation with the NHL – narrowing the field to three finalists. The public then votes for the ultimate winner at NHL.com/OReeAward.
Phillips serves as director of the Flint Inner-City Youth Hockey Program (FICYHP), based in Flint, Mich. Phillips, who grew up in the city, was determined to make his community a better and more welcoming place. He began that mission by achieving his lifelong dream of becoming a professional firefighter, serving his hometown. In 2010, Phillips created FICYHP to provide a free introduction to hockey for children who otherwise would not have the opportunity to play the sport. Its mentors, including Phillips, are committed to teaching life skills – such as sportsmanship, character and cultural diversity – through the game. FICYHP’s most recent nine-week course wrapped up in March, highlighted by a visit from O’Ree – who witnessed firsthand the growth and development of each participant.
The Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award honors former NHL forward Willie O’Ree, who on Jan. 18, 1958, became the first black player to compete in the League. O’Ree, who lost sight in his right eye at a young age, went on to play professional hockey for 21 years. For more than two decades, he has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, traveling across North America to schools and hockey programs to share his story and experiences as well as to promote messages of inclusion, dedication and confidence. O’Ree has used hockey as a platform to build character and teach life skills, and has used his influence to foster positive values through the sport. In 2018, O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Other finalists for this year’s honor were Anthony Benavides (Clark Park Coalition) and Tammi Lynch (Players Against Hate).
For more about the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, including past winners, click here.