When the Columbus Blue Jackets opened up a girls-only edition of its popular Get Out And Learn! (GOAL!) program, powered by Performance Columbus, the hope was to see central Ohio respond with excitement.
It's fair to say the response even exceeded all expectations.
The program filled up so quickly a second hour-long session was opened, and in the end, 75 girls between the ages of 5 and 8 registered to take to the ice at OhioHealth Chiller North on Oct. 5 to try the sport of hockey for the first time.
Under the watchful eye of 20 female instructors from around the Columbus hockey community, including Olympic silver medalist Lisa Chesson, the young girls learned the basics of skating and stickhandling, and left with their own fitted jersey, stick and hockey lace bracelet to keep. They also had the chance to skate and play with Blue Jackets mascot Stinger.
"All the coaches were women, which I think made them a little more comfortable in a way," said Diana Bartholomew, whose daughters Ashleigh and Audi took part. "All the drills they did with the girls were very interactive and fun to keep them interested. My girls loved the bubble drill where they had to skate around and try to pop the bubbles. And of course they loved Stinger helping out."
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The event was held in conjunction with IIHF World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend, the international federation's ninth annual event encouraging girls from across the world to try the sport. For the second year in a row, the Blue Jackets staged a girls-only GOAL! event, which gives youngsters who have no prior hockey experience the chance to try the sport while learning the basics in a fun environment.
By the time each kid leaves with their first taste of hockey, they're equipped to have the chance to continue to play the sport going forward.
"It's amazing, we tell parents all the time, when the kids go out for the first time on the ice, every kid is going to be different," said Andee Boiman, the Blue Jackets director of fan development and community programs. "Some kids may have been on the ice before at a public skate, some might have been invited to a friend's birthday party, some may have had a field trip at their school or camp.
"But by the time you're done at GOAL!, everybody on the ice can basically do the same things. You let the kids kind of explore and have fun out there and suddenly they've learned the basics."
Boiman, who also was one of the on-ice instructors for the event, termed the participation level for this year's girls-only GOAL! clinic as "awesome" and hopes that more girls pursue the sport in the central Ohio area. The Blue Jackets market events like this one as well as February's girls hockey day at Nationwide Arena to local groups and work with CBJ Foundation grant partner Central Ohio Girls Hockey to help promote the sport throughout the year.
After the girls-only GOAL! event, each parent left with information on how to keep their girls involved in the sport.
"If parents need a little bit of help in knowing what to do next, we have helped remove that education barrier by providing information about the next step," Boiman said. "We try to explain to them what options there are."
Bartholomew said her daughters might do just that after having a great time over the weekend.
"They absolutely loved it," she said. "As soon as we got in the car they asked when they could do it again."
The next GOAL! session is open to both boys and girls and will be held Nov. 9 at the OhioHealth Ice Haus. Registration is now open at www.bluejackets.com/goal.