William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog since 2012. Douglas joined NHL.com in 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, he profiles the impact of Black Girl Hockey Club scholarships on Dayton O’Donoghue, Sydney Merritt and Willow Poppleton, each of whom has gone on to play NCAA women's hockey.

Dayton O’Donoghue says the Black Girl Hockey Club helped get her into college. 

The 18-year-old Toronto native used money from $6,000 in scholarships she received from BGHC in 2022 and 2021 to travel to Florida and attend a hockey recruiting showcase.

“That was a really big moment in my recruiting process,” said O’Donoghue, a freshman forward at Dartmouth. “I got to see a whole bunch of coaches, I saw the Dartmouth College coach in person, they got to see me play. None of that would have happened without money from the scholarship.”

O’Donoghue is one of three BGHC scholarship recipients playing NCAA women’s hockey this season; each credits the financial support for making that happen.

Sydney Merritt, a $5,000 BGHC scholarship winner in 2022, is a sophomore forward for Saint Anselm College, a Division I program in Manchester, New Hampshire. 

Willow Poppleton is a sophomore defenseman at NCAA Division III Lake Forest College in Illinois, who received a $1,000 BGHC scholarship recipient in 2021.


The 19-year-old Pickering, Ontario, native, applied the money toward her tuition last year because Division III institutions don’t offer full or partial scholarships to student-athletes.

“My parents were very grateful that I won it,” she said. “It says that there are opportunities for Black girls beyond going to school 10 minutes from your house, that the money really does help send you to school that is possibly your dream school.”

BGHC established its program in 2020 to subsidize the costs of playing hockey for women of color between the ages 9-18. But the program has provided more than a monetary helping hand, some scholarship recipients said.

“It was like I was being recognized by other people in the community that being a Black woman in hockey is something that is not frowned upon, which I really appreciate,” Poppleton said. “It’s helped me in my college career in just knowing that receiving the scholarship, other girls can watch me live my dream and have the same dream of possibly playing college hockey.”

That’s the type of impact Renee Hess envisioned when she launched the scholarship program and founded BGHC in 2018. The group’s mission is to inspire and sustain passion for hockey within the Black community, specifically among Black women, and provide access to the sport through education.

Hess registered BGHC as a nonprofit organization in 2020. The Riverside, California, resident also co-founded BGHC Canada in 2022 with Saroya Tinker, a defenseman who played for Toronto of the defunct Premier Hockey Federation last season.

BGHC U.S. has awarded $146,660 in scholarships between 2020 and 2023 and given away $19,000 in hockey equipment provided by Bauer.


BGHC Canada expects to award $30,000 worth of scholarships and $15,000 in financial aid to recipients within its borders.

Hess, the associate director of service-learning for community engagement at La Sierra University in Riverside, said paying for equipment and ice time was "the first thing that we came to" when outlining the BGHC's mission and planning scholarships.

"Coming from an academic background, and being a mother of a child that played school sports, I know how expensive sports can be,” she said. “I really had no idea how expensive hockey was when I got into the sport.”

She learned about hockey’s costs when she spoke with Rebecca Warner, the mother of Lincoln Brown, then a forward with the Los Angeles Jr. Kings and now a 16-year-old playing for the Culver (Indiana) Military Academy.

“Equipment, fees, travel costs, she gave me all the information on how it all adds up,” Hess said. “So when I see the girls who are out there playing, especially the older girls, I know how helpful the scholarships can be.”

Hess said BGHC decided early on to design the scholarships so recipients and their families had greater flexibility with how the money would be used.

“We always tell the girls, ‘If you need to use this for hot cocoa in the arena on a game day, that’s OK, if mom needs it for gas, that’s OK,’” she said. “This is going to you to continue engaging in hockey.”

Merritt said she followed Hess’ advice. The 20-year-old from San Jose used her BGHC scholarship to pay for books and supplies at Saint Anselm, along with the unexpected expenses associated with being a college student.

“It really helped me be able to feel less stressed," she said, "and be able to focus on my passion for the game instead of worrying, ‘How am I going to continue this, how am I going to get through my freshman year?' That was a positive impact.”