Where Do All the Girls Go?

Before girls get to high school, they tend to leave ice hockey behind

Editor’s Note: This story is a part of The Shakerite: Women’s Edition that was published virtually in May 2022. Due to a temporary change in the teacher adviser along with COVID-19 restrictions, The Shakerite decided to proceed with our print edition virtually. This is one of ten stories in the edition.

Girls who grow up in the Shaker Youth Hockey Association (SYHA) program tend to leave hockey for other sports once they get to the high school level. Even with success and the encouragement from coaches, they don’t feel like equal members of the team because they are girls in a predominantly male sport

SYHA tries to be very welcoming to all, but some girls get discouraged  because of comments they receive, particularly from players on other teams.  After a bantam game in Elyria, sophomore Susie Benincasa recalls being told by a girl on the opposing team that boys on that team were talking about their looks. “It was really upsetting because all we wanted to do was play a sport without being judged for our appearances,” Benincasa said. 

Joe Miller, who has had three children play SYHA hockey, says his daughter sees a lack of bonding with teammates due to using a separate locker room. “Sometimes I think she has more conversations with the girls on other teams than her own teammates,” Miller said.

Parents recognize this even when their daughters don’t. “But as a parent, you always worry about how your kid is being treated and if they are being included, especially if they are one of the only girls or, in Eleanor’s case, one of the few Black kids,” Miller said.

It is common for many girls to switch from ice hockey to field hockey after middle school. “Field hockey is a huge community in Shaker,” sophomore CeCe Grimberg said. “Field hockey provides so many opportunities and like a chance at a future in the sport.”  

According to Dr. Kerry O’Connor, science teacher and Grimberg’s mother, girls choose field hockey because they don’t have the same opportunities in hockey. “Had there been more support and a more direct path I know Cece would still be playing,” she said. 

According to Grimberg, girls who play hockey feel enormous pressure to live up to a certain standard, as they are seen as representative of the whole female hockey community. “If you play bad, everyone thinks that girls are bad at hockey,” said Grimberg. 

Girls who continue to play hockey in high school often go to all girls travel teams.  Varsity high school coach Matthew Bartley welcomes girls to practice with the high school team. “To help support these athletes, we have actually allowed girls who play on those teams and practice with us locally instead of traveling to Pittsburgh, etc. for their practices,” Bartley wrote.

Last year, due to COVID protocols at Thornton Park, the high school coaches weren’t able to contact all of the SYHA bantam players about preseason. “Because of the pandemic I wasn’t out there at practices,” Bartley said. This year rising freshmen girls have the same opportunity as the boys for preseason practice.  

Miller thinks people undervalue girls’ contributions to their teams. Miller wrote, “People underestimate Eleanor on the ice. It may be unintentional and unfounded, but it’s probably because she’s a girl.”

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