It was scary for 9-year-old Avery Stone to commute from Providence, R.I., to play club hockey in Concord, Mass. It took her away from home and introduced her to a new level of competition. It also was the first time she remembers hearing teammates use gay slurs.
A decade later, as a junior on the Amherst College women's ice hockey team, Stone isn't afraid to be herself and share with her teammates who she is. But it's a transition that took some time for the junior English major, who first came out of the closet as a high school junior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.
Avery Stone, a junior on the Amherst College women's ice hockey team, isn't afraid to be herself and share who she is with her teammates. (Photo: Jeff Sheng/Fearless)
"The people I met in Andover were just really nice. It was clear that it wasn't just tolerated, but accepted to be different. That's where I found my footing," Stone said. "I was the captain of two teams my senior year, which was a great affirmation that it doesn't matter who you are, just the kind of athlete and person you are. I saw it as a great honor to be a captain in field hockey and ice hockey."
The acceptance at Andover did wonders for Stone's confidence. By the time she came to Amherst, a liberal arts college with an enrollment of about 1,800 students, playing hockey was still a great outlet. But as one of the college's only openly gay college athletes, it was clear the transition would not be as smooth as it had been at boarding school.
"Girls would say, 'You're too pretty to be gay.' The attention was meant to be flattering but it was sort of alienating," Stone said. "So many female athletes have come to me and said they're afraid of the reaction they'll get if they come out.
"I was actually bullied my freshman year by a teammate. It wasn't to my face. It was behind my back. We're on a lot better terms now. But it really did affect my confidence and ability to play hockey."
Stone eventually approached the school's LGBT organization, where she found a deep rift between that group and the school's athletics program. Stone took it upon herself to bring the two worlds together.
On top of being active with Patrick Burke's You Can Play project, Stone has been vocal about her own experiences as they pertain to gay and women's rights. She has written about both as a contributor to The Huffington Post and has been invited to speak at other colleges. She recently was invited back to Andover to speak with the school's team captains. It's a triumphant return she's looking forward to making.
"It's nice that I get to go back there. I do really love talking to people and hearing what they have to say -- having conversations that are hard to have and making people feel comfortable," said Stone, an aspiring journalist.
"Playing the game has made me who I am in so many ways. As a woman, it's made me willing to compete and confront others in a constructive way. It's made me learn how to work hard for things. The sport itself, I thank God that I play it."