Controversial push for all girls hockey in B.C. ‘not a good idea’ says mom

Seven-year-old Alyssa Thornton, of the Vancouver Angels novice C1 girls minor hockey team, hugs the Stanley Cup. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

VANCOUVER — A push to grow girls hockey on Vancouver Island is being criticized by some parents, but one advocate says the controversial move is the only way to save the sport from attrition.

The Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association has put forward a resolution that would require all girls play on a female-only team. Any girls who want to play on a co-ed team as well would be allowed to do so and would pay a single registration fee for both teams, said Jim Humphrey, the association’s president.

For years, the group has turned away dozens of girls who want to play on female-only teams, but can’t because there isn’t one available, he said.

"The only way the girl’s system is going to grow and to improve is having females help to grow the female game," Humphrey said.

"Female hockey is going to die on Vancouver Island if we don’t do something."

But the move has been met with resistance from some parents. A thread on the association’s Facebook page features several comments from people who say their daughters would rather quit hockey than play on an all-girls team.

Heather Wong isn’t part of the Facebook thread, but her daughter played on both all-female and co-ed teams in Nanaimo.

Wong said she doesn’t think the association’s proposal is a good idea because it alienates girls who play co-ed hockey.

"They’re telling them they have to play girls-only. Well, if they wanted to play girls-only, they’d be playing girls-only," she said.

Canadian human rights tribunals have ruled that girls should be allowed to play on boys teams. The Manitoba Human Rights Commission ordered the Manitoba High School Athletics Association to pay two sisters $3,500 each in 2006 after it found they were discriminated against when they weren’t allowed to try out for their school’s male hockey team.

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"Telling a girl in this day and age that you can’t play on a mixed team probably isn’t the best thing to do," Wong said.

A better way forward could begin with finding out why some girls don’t want to play on all-girl teams, she added

Humphrey said he’s "at a loss" as to why the resolution is getting push back.

"We’re not trying to take anything away from a girl," he said. "We’re trying to give more to the girls who want to play boy hockey, but we’re also trying to make sure that the girls who want to play hockey, but don’t want to play boy hockey, have a place to play."

The issue is a kind of a "chicken and egg problem," said James Nedila, president of an all-girls league called the Vancouver Angels.

"You want to give more girls a place to play, but you don’t have a place to play unless you have more girls," he said.

The Vancouver Angels is the only all-girls hockey association in Vancouver.

Ian Fleetwood is spokesman for a group that’s trying to create a similar all-girls hockey association in Victoria.

Girls currently playing on all-female teams have to travel all over Vancouver Island and having an association in Victoria would allow them to play more games locally, he said.

The group would attract both girls who have never played hockey and girls who are playing on mixed teams, Fleetwood said.

"We’re not going to force girls to come to it, but we think the improved development model and more local games would attract a lot of girls."

In Vancouver, Nedila said the Angels are constantly competing with the larger groups of boys to get ice time and other resources, so they have to go out of their way to show families the benefits of an all-girls team.

His own daughter is almost 14 and she loves the social aspect of playing with other girls.

"When girls play on a boys team, they’re usually on their own, the boys don’t really know what to do with them. … They kind of feel isolated and not really part of the team," Nedila said.

"When you walk into a room full of girls, it’s very different, a very different atmosphere. All of the sudden, you have somebody you’re going to be able to talk to."

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