Yukon teen with autism has unique spot on boys’ hockey team

Yukon Progress, Yukon Review, Hockey, Autism
DeeAnna Phillips takes a knee in front of the goal with hockey stick, puck and helmet. Phillips plays on a boys’ team and isn’t afraid to mix it up with her competitors. (Photo by Alyssa Sperrazza)

By Alyssa Sperrazza
Staff Writer

For DeeAnna Phillips, defying social norms is just another Monday. The recently-turned 18-year-old Yukon resident spends most of her time on an ice rink, not as a figure skater, but as a member of a boy’s hockey team.

Phillips started skating 10 years ago and said she prefers a puck and stick over figure skating any day. She started playing hockey four years ago with her younger brother, and Phillips said the boys on her team are very protective of their lone female player, making sure no one messes with her.

“It makes dating very hard,” Phillips joked. “I have one biological brother and about a hundred other ones.”

Her band of brothers act as her own personal bodyguards during games which amuses Phillips.

“My first year playing on a team, this kid knocked me down after the whistle and my brother came up to him and was like, ‘Go apologize to her now,’” Phillips recalled. “My brother was 5’7’ at the time so he’s just towering over the kid and he just nodded and apologized. At the same time, the entire team of boys was skating up towards this kid. I just stayed on the ground the whole time watching.”

“Yea, that was pretty funny,” Phillip’s mom, Allie DeWitt, agreed. “The goalie is typically the most protected player out there, but you put a girl on the ice and she becomes the most protected player out there,” DeWitt said, “Plus she’s a goalie’s sister.”

DeeAnna Phillips completes a drill that focuses on stick handling and puck control during a recent practice. (Photo by Alyssa Sperrazza)

Skating around in full hockey gear effortlessly, you’d never be able to guess Phillips has high-performing autism, Asperger Syndrome and ADHD. After struggling to focus in public school, Phillips switched to the Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy four years ago. She said the virtual school has provided her with the flexibility she needs to play hockey and helps her focus better.

“When I was in public school, I couldn’t cross my midline so I couldn’t cross my legs, I couldn’t cross my arms… I mean I could physically do it but it was unnatural to me,” Phillips explained.

“So when I’d go to flip a page, I had to stand up, walk with the page, then sit back down. It was very disruptive to the class. And when substitute teachers don’t care if a class was loud, it was very hard on me ‘cause I needed the quiet. I needed the one on one that wasn’t available in the brick and mortar.”

Phillips said the virtual schooling has given her the flexibility she needs to play hockey, work, hang out with friends, as well as catch up on her favorite thing to do when she’s not on the ice or in school: sleep.

“I do not get a lot of sleep,” Phillips said with a laugh, confessing she’d stayed up till midnight, wanting to be awake for the first minutes of her 18th birthday.

Playing a male-dominated sport and being the only girl on a boys team comes with its challenges, but Phillips wants other girls to know that it’s worth it.

“Everybody always says it’s a boy’s sport but it’s not… It’s a girl’s sport too,” Phillips said.

“If the boys are making fun of you cause you’re the only girl or cause you want to play, it’s because they’re scared of you. They don’t want to believe that they can be shot-out by a girl, but trust me, they can.”

Phillips said she does get some strange reactions from girls when they find out she traded

Mom Allie Dewitt and family pets Mufasa and Nala join DeeAnna Phillips for her 18th birthday which was celebrated Monday. (Photo by Alyssa Sperrazza)

her white skates for a facemask and hockey gloves.

“Especially when I have my nails done or my makeup done,” Phillips said laughing. “I mean, I am still a girly girl but I will beat you up.”

Phillips’ advice to girls wanting to pick up a stick and puck is to make friendships, be yourself, and let your teammates have your back.

“[Other boys] taunt me sometimes with very rude things,” Phillips said. “So you have ‘puck bunnies’ which are girls who just want to get with the hockey players and they’ve called me that before… And most of the boys are afraid to hit me back because of my brother and all my teammates. But you just have to go out there and try your hardest and they’ll realize you’re not just a figure skater; you’re actually one of them.”