Let’s hear it for the girls

Looking at gender in sports has always been a pretty thorny issue. If someone uses the term “lady” or “girls,” it might be taken the wrong way.
I think the one dominant observation I’ve heard firsthand from people after watching girls play hockey has been, “It’s not bad, but it’s not on the same physical level as the boys” or the even worse, “The competitive fire just isn’t there.”
But after covering the home tournament of the Fort Frances Girls’/Women’s Hockey Assoc-iation last weekend, I have to say political correctness be darned: these gals can play hockey.
Oh sure, for the rest of this column, I could analyze the difference in the coaching psychology for boys and girls.
That won’t happen. While in university, I barely passed first-year psychology. Rather, as a reporter, I’ll just tell you what I did see.
The intensity of the scrambles for loose pucks in the corner, and the joy of victory and disappointment in defeat, were on par with any boys’ tournament I’ve covered in town this season, regardless of age. No textbook needed to tell me that.
According to a recent documentary on “The Score,” girls’ participation in minor hockey in this country has gone up 500 percent over the last decade.
“That growth has been mainly at Atom, Novice, and PeeWee levels,” said Stuart McIvor, who coaches both the local Novice and ladies’ squads in town. “It’s nice to see it’s happening at the grassroots level.”
The FFGWHA has done its own share of growing, too, having expanded by one age division every year. This, in turn, has spawned the development of the Muskie girls’ hockey program, which is now in its second year.
“I think the Muskie girls’ hockey program has really sparked the interest,” said Greg Madill, both a coach with the local Bantam team and the black-and-gold.
It’s the attaching of “Muskie hockey”—a rich tradition in these parts—that’s going to give young girls something to shoot for. And with the talk of current Muskie players being scouted by U.S. colleges, this growth can only continue.
Taking it up a level to the collegiate ranks certainly is a realistic goal for local players. Erin McIvor, Stuart’s daughter, who had to play most of her minor hockey days in the boys’ system here, is now the assistant captain for the York University varsity hockey team.
She and former teammate Heather Ash (who now plays goal for the University of Wisconsin-Superior) were in town over the Christmas break and helped out at some of the Novice team’s practices.
It’s one thing to watch the Canadian women’s hockey team thrive at the Winter Olympics on television. It’s another thing to have high-calibre players from your own hometown skating on the ice with you.
“I think some of our girls were really impressed with that. It was nice to see that interaction,” remarked Stuart McIvor.
FFGWHA president Tim Fowler said the growth has been amazing, but admitted the next step is getting more women in their coaching ranks. And that may be the hardest step of them all, especially in a town this size.
I think their best bet is to target the younger women to lend their time to coaching—ones who recently finished college and perhaps haven’t played in a few years.
That sense of giving back will most surely draw them in.
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The Fort Frances Badminton Club is now accepting registrations for its annual junior/adult tournament March 23-24 at Fort High. Fee is $27 for juniors and $30 for adults, and the deadline to enter is March 16.
Call Manami Alexander (274-3991) for more info.
Meanwhile, a contingent of club members will head off to Winnipeg this weekend for the annual Winter Club Invitational.
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A “Hoops for Heart” 2-ball competition to raise funds for the Heart and Stroke Foundation will be held at the Fort High gym starting Monday at 11:45 a.m.
Anyone interested can call Shane Bliss at 274-7747 for more information on pledges and participation. So far, 40-50 names have signed up.
Two-ball involves teams of two shooting baskets against the clock.
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As reported in this week’s Rainy River Record, Stratton native Jackie McCormick (nee Bonot) led her University of Western Ontario rink to the Ontario University Athletics conference championship this past weekend in Toronto.
McCormick went 5-0 en route to the title.
If you are planning any upcoming sporting events or have any sports related information, feel free to call 274-5373 or drop by the office. You can e-mail me at rvillagracia@fortfrances.com

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