SHA’s new geographic boundaries for girls’ minor hockey stirs dissent
For the 2018-19 season, the Saskatchewan Hockey Association (SHA) has decided to create geographical subdivision boundaries around Saskatoon and Regina for girls’ hockey.
In other words, the cities’ hockey programs will be closed to girls in rural communities, with the intention of attracting new female participants in the outlying regions.
“I think it’s going to grow the game. It’s going to get minor hockey associations thinking, ‘What we haven’t done?’ and ‘Let’s start doing it,'” said Kelly McClintock, general manager of the SHA.
Some parents believe the decision will have the opposite effect. One mother started an online petition asking the SHA to reverse its decision, which received over 2,000 signatures.
Another parent, whose daughter lives in Hanley but played with the Comets in Saskatoon last year, says the only option left will be playing on a boys’ team in Clavet.
“[My daughter] is quite upset,” the parent noted. “She’s had such a great experience playing in Saskatoon with girls. She wants to find a girls’ hockey team to play on and she is very concerned.”
The SHA applied the same rules to boys’ leagues in the 1990s, with success.
“When kids couldn’t come into Regina to play boys’ hockey, what happened? Associations start developing teams and putting together programs. It’s no different than female hockey,” added McClintock.
When that change took affect, there were 21,000 boys in the province playing minor hockey. Right now, there are 4,500 girls playing minor hockey in Saskatchewan.
Both the SHA and those against the new move agree on one thing: both sides want to see the growth of girls’ hockey across the province.
But Dr. Louise Humbert, who studies physical activity in children and youth at the University of Saskatchewan, cautions against applying the same policy to girls and boys in sport.
“If your endpoint is getting more girls and young women in hockey, you don’t need to follow a model that worked for boys and young men. Let’s really focus on what’s going to work for girls and young women,” said Humbert, whose research examines the different ways girls and boys participate in physical activity.
“Young women will often connect, and then compete,” she pointed out. “Young men will often compete, and then develop a connection. It’s the connection that will often recruit and sustain involvement of girls and young women.”
She also noted that young women are bombarded with potential obstacles that can decrease their motivation to participate in sport.
“[There’s] almost a tsunami of influences against girls to be active … through the media, through images that are portrayed.”
“A lot of those girls don’t have enough girls where they’re from to have a team themselves,” said Team Canada hockey player Emily Clark, who played minor hockey in Saskatoon and grew up playing with girls who lived in rural communities.
“If some girls don’t have anywhere to go and they can’t play the sport, then that’s definitely disappointing.”
Two-time Olympic hockey gold medalist Carla McLeod feels more options need to be available to girls.
“If somebody wants to go play because it’s fun and their only objective is to have fun, brilliant — we have to have a spot for that. If there [are] girls that want to play in the Olympics one day or achieve a university scholarship, we have to have a stream for that, too.”
In a statement on their website, the SHA said: “We strongly encourage those minor hockey associations around the two cities to work together to develop plans to offer female programming.”
For that to happen, Humbert said, the SHA needs to be more involved in terms of offering resources for the transition.
“There is a thought that if we deny entrance into the major centers, that girls’ and women’s hockey will flourish in the rural areas,” she noted.
“What I’d like to know is, how are you going to have that happen? Are you going to really lay in resources to help coaching? Is there going to be quite a recruitment of girls and young women? Policy without appropriate action may not achieve that end result that you want.”
Despite the disappointment expressed by players and parents, the SHA board of directors says the association won’t be making any adjustments to their decision at this point.
The changes are slated to take effect in the 2018-19 season.
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