Somewhere, buried in a box of notebooks, is a short story I wrote when I was a teen about a girl who broke the mold and played hockey.
It feels strange to me now, given that I’m still in my 30s and those kinds of limits seem a lifetime away.
But women in sports are still struggling for parity with their male counterparts, even at the earliest levels. And maybe they always will.
It has been a high profile few weeks for women’s hockey.
First, players on the women’s U.S. hockey team announced they would boycott the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship if they didn’t receive year-round salaries for their training and development.
In the past, players received $1,000 for each of the six months leading up to the Olympic Games and had to hold second, or even third jobs while maintaining their skills to play at the world’s most elite level.
USA Hockey pushed back. They unsuccessfully tried to get replacement players who turned them down.
Then there were rumors that the men’s team might boycott as well.
An 11th hour deal was made, just days before the tournament got underway in Michigan. According to NBC Sports, the four-year deal could pay players $3,000 to $4,000 a month.
Terms of the contract have not been made public, but the deal also included the formation of a Women’s High Performance Advisory Group aimed at advancing the sport for women and girls.
By mid-week, Team USA was undefeated headed into the semi-finals.
Then came the news that the University of North Dakota is cutting three of its athletic programs, including Division I women’s hockey and the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams.
UND is a hockey hotbed, and the women’s program has produced nine Olympians. According to UND alumnae and Team USA members Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, that number could be as high as 12 in the 2018 Olympics, representing four different countries.
The Lamoureux twins lobbied the university’s president, citing that cutting the program would have a devastating impact on women’s hockey in the region.
But the school argued it needed to cut $1.2 million from its athletic budget, and women’s hockey is a financial loser.
For both boys and girls, only the tiniest percentage of hockey players go on to play at an elite level.
That doesn’t stop families from spending big money for their kids to play. Hockey is expensive, from the very first year mini mites hit the ice.
No doubt some of those parents truly believe their son or daughter is going to score a college scholarship, or, for the boys, even make it to the NHL.
But most are just giving their kids a learning experience that can be translated into many areas of life. Time spent in the dressing room and on the ice with my own women’s hockey team, even at the recreational level, is enjoyable and important.
Because of the limits women face with going pro – salaries in the National Women’s Hockey League ranged from $10,000 to $26,000 before recent cuts – the sport cannot produce income-generating superstars like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin.
But that doesn’t mean the sport, and the women who play it, aren’t worth the investment. Especially if USA wants to keep going for gold.