Girl Power on the Frozen Tundra

Girl Power on the Frozen Tundra - gender equality in Sports

Vermont is a remote state that has just 630,000 people spread across little hamlets connected by Interstate 91. Nestled within the Green Mountains are several towns so tiny they can’t even afford to open their own high school. The top half of the state has only a handful of secondary schools, most of them with less than 1,000 students. With only a movie theater and a bowling alley for entertainment, Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom can be a boring place for locals.

Snow Fall and Sports

But, when the first snow touches the ground in mid-November, the people come alive. Residents young and old throw themselves into winter sports. It isn’t unusual to see old women going on their morning walk in snowshoes, and dad roaring along side the road on a snow mobile with his children in tow. Elementary schools want their students to be adept at winter sports from an early age, so once a week they pay to take children up to nearest mountain and give them snowboarding and skiing lessons. On other days, they have a cross country club dubbed ‘Nordic skiing’ to keep the middle schoolers active in the winter chill. Recess involves sledding down hills, not slides.

woman skiing - gender equality in sports

For high schoolers it is no different. A side effect of having so few students is that for girls in sports, they struggle to have enough players to make a league sized team. The boys can easily have their own hockey team, with alternates and varsity subs. Until age 12 local girls are allowed to play on mixed gender teams, but after puberty the boys and girls are separated. This leads to frustration for the girls, their parents, and coaches.

The Kingdom Blades

Thus, the Kingdom Blades was born. Seeing the gap in opportunity for high school girls to play hockey for their schools, several coaches began to piece together players from schools all over the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Once a year from November to March, teen girls that would usually be bitter school rivals come together and are a tight knit community of hockey lovers and. Instead of being from Danville High School or St. Johnsbury Academy, they are just from the Kingdom Blades. In the 2018/19 hockey season, Kingdom Blades has 20 girls from 5 different high schools. Many team members must travel over an hour to get to the practice sites. Their dedication and commitment to hockey is an inspiration to those in their communities and younger girls alike.

Every Sunday night, the Fenton Chester Arena opens its doors to women in hockey to have private ice time and coaching for an hour. Girls as young as three come to learn the basics of the sport and get in some practice without more aggressive boys hindering their movements. This weekly Sunday night practice has come to be safe space for girls to share tips, swap gear and have fun. Did I mention it’s free? In November 2018, Fenton Chester invited the Dartmouth University Woman’s Team to give a motivational talk to the Sunday night players and show them their moves. Many of the attendees were Kingdom Blades players.

girls hockey - gender equality in sports

Conquering Sexism One Game at a Time

Hockey is undoubtedly a male dominated sport. But in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, teenage girls haven’t let that stop them. They demand to be seen and to play. An 8th grader was so eager to be a member of the Kingdom Blades that her middle school petitioned Vermont State to give her a special dispensation to play because there were no other options for her age group. The request was granted, and she is a regular competitor in Kingdom Blades games.

Kingdom Blades has kicked down many obstacles for Northern Vermont high school girls, but they aren’t finished yet. A player from St. Johnsbury Academy vented her frustration that the girl’s hockey league forbids violence, and some of the more enthusiastic players are frequently given penalties for acting on their aggression. The girls argue that they are trained from a young age in hockey that controlled violence and skating go hand in hand in hockey. The girls think that young women should have the same standard of body checking allowed on ice as boy’s their age do.

hockey skates - gender equality in sports

I wish I could say this type of gender discrimination in sports was an isolated incident in hockey, but we can see this throughout sports in general. Serena Williams, the goddess of tennis herself is not immune to sexism, as we saw in 2018. During an epic battle of rackets in the 2018 US Open, Serena Williams found herself penalized by the umpire on multiple occasions, which ended with her losing the match due to his “point stealing”. At one point, Williams called the umpire out for this treatment and was carded again. Williams later stated that male tennis players have gotten away with arguing with an umpire with no consequence, while she, a woman, lost a point. This is simply one example in a string of unequal treatment towards female athletes.

Hopefully, the Kingdom Blades will continue to bring down barriers for teenage girls wanting to play hockey, and eventually create more equality across the sport. In the meantime, the Kingdom Blades team will continue to offer an empowering space for Vermont’s teen girls, teaching that nothing-especially not gendered sports norms-should stand in the way of their dreams.

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Indigo Ferra, 25-year-old writer and educator, has lived all over the United States and the world. She has her BA in political science from Loyola University and an MA in international politics from the University of Warwick. She currently work as an EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher and as a temporary history teacher at a boarding school. An avid writer, she has written a few novels and is working on her first non fiction book. She’s passionate about spreading awareness about the female experience and empowering fellow women to overcome negativity.

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