Flint, MI — Flint’s only outdoor ball hockey court is officially opening on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Rico Phillips, the director of Flint Inner City Youth Hockey, said the court is special because it’s “barrier free,” meaning anyone can come use it at any time for free.

“While right now it’s kind of been a hidden gem for the Mott Park community, we want to make sure the entire Flint community knows that they’re welcome to participate as well,” he said.

The court is about half the size of a regulation ice rink and has a storage box loaded with street hockey sticks and hockey balls for public use. All anyone needs to bring with them to play is a pair of sneakers.

At the Sept. 5 event, Phillips said he is going to teach attendees the basics of the game, including how to hold the hockey stick, how to pass the ball, how to shoot the ball and general rules and player positions.

“Then the rest is, let’s just have some fun and that’s really what it’s going to be all about,” he said.

Currently, 30 to 40 children are expected to participate, according to Phillips’ press release.

How the court came to be

The idea for the court came from Chad Schlosser, the president of the Mott Park Neighborhood Association.

There was previously a roller hockey rink in Mott Park, but it was put there in the 1980s and had not been maintained since, Schlosser said.

It was made of asphalt, and weeds had grown up through the cracks, making it a rough surface for play.

“I just think kids need opportunities to get outside and be in safe places,” Schlosser said.

A child plays ball hockey at a new court in Mott Park in Flint, Mich. (Photo courtesy of Rico Phillips)

So, in Spring 2022, he applied for funding from Genesee County Habitat for Humanity and the city’s parks and recreation millage. Schlosser said he also received some private donations through Kettering University to make the new court possible.

The project started with the removal of the prior court’s asphalt perimeter, because Schlosser said it just wasn’t effective at keeping balls on the court.

Then, Schlosser said they added two feet of concrete around the perimeter so they could out up boards and lay down a sport court surface. He said the surface is made up of plastic interlocking tiles that sit on the asphalt.

This surface good for roller skates, skateboarding and playing hockey, he said.

“If you fall, you’re not going to get yourself all scuffed up, but yet it gives you good traction so you’re not falling all over, you know, sliding and stuff,” Phillips added.

Schlosser also got a grant through Keep Genesee County Beautiful for the sports equipment shed now associated with the court. He said Phillips and neighbors of Mott Park then donated the hockey sticks and balls that are kept in the shed to be used by the community.

Schlosser said he hopes the court will help more people to take up hockey.

“I’m not sure that people don’t want to play hockey. Maybe they just don’t have a place and don’t have equipment, and it’s just not something that they’ve ever had an opportunity to do,” he said. “I think when you, you know, eliminate some of those barriers to access, it’s really incredible what can happen.”

Schlosser went on to say that since the court was finished in June 2023, groups have been there weekly to play games like hockey or sometimes handball, a game that’s like soccer but instead of kicking, players throw the ball.

“The more we can get people out in the community interacting with each other, the more it kind of recreates a healthy narrative of like, what our community, what our neighborhood can be,” he said.

Flint Inner City Youth Hockey

For Phillips, the new outdoor court is about more than just a fun activity for the community, it’s about creating equity in his favorite sport.

Phillips started playing ice hockey in high school and became a student athletic trainer in the mid-80s at Southwestern High School.

“I fell in love with the sport,” he said.

Then, in 1986, Phillips began refereeing games. But as time went on, he started to become more and more aware of the people who played hockey around him.

Kids play ball hockey at the new ball hockey court in Mott Park in Flint, Mich. (Photo courtesy of Rico Phillips)

“I was the only person of color in the entire, you know, the hockey community that was around at the time, and so I also was forced and subjected to racial slurs and taunts and other ways to marginalize me and make me feel a little bit unwelcome,” he said.

But that didn’t stop him from staying involved in hockey.

“The one reason I stayed in the sport, even going through some of those moments is that there was so many good people,” he said.

His early experience is, in part, what motivated him to found Flint Inner City Youth Hockey in 2010, a program for kids in Flint to learn about hockey.

Through his program, Phillips teaches about 30 kids how to ice skate and play hockey from January through March. Then, the program helps the kids get onto organized teams and helps them pay for any costs to get involved.

“Over the years, we probably have somewhere in the neighborhood [of] about 20 kids that have continued to play organized hockey,” he said.

Mott Park’s new ball hockey court is located off of Nolan Drive between Weller Street and Dougherty Place.

Sophia is Flint Beat's City Hall reporter. She joins the team after previously reporting for the Livingston Daily and the Lansing State Journal, along with some freelance work with The New York Times....

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