Flint — One by one, young fledgling hockey players stepped onto the ice, eyes on their skates, arms out for balance.

One by one they fell down, usually laughing and getting back on their skates by themselves or with a little help from a volunteer trainer, such as a Fenton/Linden Griffin varsity hockey team player.

They didn’t fall down unprotected. Each child was issued skates, shin guards, hockey pants, shoulder pads, helmet, jersey, gloves and clothing for underneath.

This is the seventh year for the Flint Inner-City Youth Hockey Program where 30 Flint children, ages 8-11, can learn about the sport of hockey for free over a nine-week series. It will culminate into “The Big Game” at the end of the series in March.

Saturday, Jan. 4 was opening day and many kids were on skates for the first time.

This falling down and getting back up is a big point of the program. Director Rico Phillips, a retired Flint Fire Department quartermaster, makes falling down and getting back up the first lesson.

“It might hurt a little when you fall,” Phillips said from the ice, himself dressed in hockey gear. “You won’t be hurt so bad you can’t get back up.”

His program thrives on donations, such as the ice time donated by the Flint Firebirds Foundation, equipment from Perani’s Hockey World and volunteer trainers like these local high school students.

The Fenton/Linden Griffins varsity hockey team has assisted with this program for four years, Coach Matt Krusniak said.

There were 14 Griffins players and parents present to help the children get into their gear and learn how to skate.

“I think hockey is a sport that teaches a lot of life lessons,” Krusniak said. “You have to challenge yourself emotionally in the game of hockey.”

He said that these lessons translate across urban and suburban lines.

Griffins players, including Trevor Isaacson and Brendan Miles, both 18, helped the children keep their balance and learn how to skate.

While the young participants learned from these local students, the Fenton/Linden players learned from the kids. Miles said he learned that not everyone has the same opportunities to get into the sport like he did in first grade.

Without such a program, these children may not be exposed to or have the opportunity to play hockey, Phillips said. He said one goal of the program is to fight against the belief that hockey is a game for the elite.

Miles said he saw kids progress from relying on a “pusher” on the ice, to skating around on their own in less than 90 minutes.

Anyone interested in volunteer opportunities should join the Flint Inner-City Youth Hockey Program group on Facebook for announcements.

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