Eli Phillips may be a boy of few words, but his hair makes a loud statement.
The 11-year-old from Akwesasne, the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community that straddles the Quebec, Ontario and New York State borders, rocks a mullet and is among 25 finalists vying for the 2022 USA Mullet Championship title.
“Exciting,” he shyly said about the experience.
Eli, who plays hockey for the Akwesasne Wolves and Cornwall Colts, has been growing his long locks since he started playing hockey at four years old. He was inspired to sport a mullet after one of his favourite hockey players, NHL Chicago Blackhawks right winger Patrick Kane, got one.
Eli was introduced to Kane’s stick-handling skills and his signature playoff hairdo by his stepfather, Bryce Thompson, at a young age.
“I showed him a picture online and a couple of highlights, and then he wanted a mullet just like him,” said Thompson.
“I took him to the barbershop. His mom almost cried, but it’s stuck, and it looks pretty awesome.”
Kevin Begola, president and founder of the USA Mullet Championships, said the online competition started in 2020 and has only grown in popularity. There are divisions for kids, teens, women and men.
“In 2020, yes, the mullet was coming back, but it’s big right now,” he said.
Close to 700 families across the United States registered their children in the kids division contest this year. After an internal round of judging to scale that down to 500, contestants went through two rounds of Facebook voting before being whittled down to 25 finalists.
“If you look at the kids’ names, where they’re from and their hair all together, it’s just amazing,” said Begola.
“These kids are awesome. They come from great families, and they have good stories, too.”
Eli’s participation in the contest is inspiring other youth who play hockey in his community to sport mullets, too.
As of Friday morning, he was ranked in 13th place in the competition. The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne joined in supporting the family by encouraging community members to vote.
“Every time we’re out in public, he gets so many compliments on his hair,” said Eli’s mother, Andi Phillips.
The attention and support he’s been getting has been overwhelming, she said.
“The amount of support we got from our small community, I think that that alone means a lot,” said Phillips.
“It shows how much the community actually cares.”
Voting for the contest ends at 11:59 p.m. ET Friday, with the top three candidates expected to be announced over the weekend. The public can vote for any of the 25 finalists on the Mullet Championship site.