Ball hockey in New York City has become more popular in recent years, especially among women. Women's Ball Hockey NYC is at the forefront of that movement.
Their mission, according to their website, womensballhockeynyc.org, is to "strengthen the NYC women's ball hockey community by empowering players through inclusive opportunities that foster teamwork and respect by making women the focus of ball hockey."
In March, which is Gender Equality Month in the NHL, that message resonates even more.
"I believe that lack of resources and access are two main barriers to development in women's ball hockey," said Marcella Coulson, one of the founders of Women's Ball Hockey NYC. "We're inspired by the long and rich history of women making a difference in our community and wanted to contribute by forming a group and working together. There are other ball hockey options out there, which many of us play in and enjoy, but I think what makes us different is our commitment to put women first."
Coulson and a handful of other women were drawn together by their passion for hockey and community. They wanted to expand women's ball hockey in New York, which had been in existence previously, by increasing resources and outreach.
"We seek to empower women of all shapes, sizes and skill levels through a sport not traditionally associated with females," Mia Juhng, one of the founders, said. "We hope to become not only a gateway for more women to become involved in hockey but serve as a reminder of the many positive life metaphors the sport has to offer."
Coulson brought the group together two years ago after making a list of the things she hoped could be accomplished.
"The first annual tournament that we did together was Hock-away (in Rockaway, New York) and for me, that tournament was always meant to be more of celebration of our community, no matter your age or skill level," she said. "It aspires to strike the ideal balance between being very competitive but also very fun. From there, we wanted to do things to grow on that and work towards our vision."
The outreach has certainly grown in recent years. Cherie Stewart, a former National Women's Hockey League player and member of the United States Women's National Ball Hockey Team, is among those who have participated in Women's Ball Hockey NYC events.
"As a New York City resident and hockey player, I believe it's important to have outlets for women to play ball hockey here because the passion for the game exists and there's a plethora of current and untapped potential of talent making an impact to the game," said Stewart, who was an All-Tournament Team selection at the 2019 ISBHF Ball Hockey World Championship. "Whether you have a hockey background or not or are looking for a great way to exercise and be a part of a team, ball hockey is an accessible sport with minimal equipment required and a lot of fun to play."
The program not only has scrimmages and tournaments, but also skill clinics run by USA Hockey and USA Ball Hockey coaches, open to all levels. They also plan to run two summer skill clinics for young girls. They're also adding a spring tournament in Queens because of increasing demand.
"Generally, there's lots of support and interest to do something like that," Coulson said. "It's really about finding ways to access and afford the resources needed to execute such a program and ensure its accessible to everyone. For scrimmages, we get a mix of people, and I think it's a great way for new players to get in the game to come in and not feel pressure or commitment.
"It's always been fun for me because I just feel like I go back in time when I used to play street hockey as a kid."
From professionals to amateurs to women who just want to give it a try, all women are encouraged to attend the clinics and scrimmages.
"As someone who didn't play hockey growing up, my only ball hockey experience was in co-ed leagues until the Hock-away event," said Morgen Schroeder, who plays both women's and co-ed recreationally. "I love how playing builds my confidence and gives me more time to work on improving my skills. Plus, the friendships and sisterhood are an awesome benefit as well."
That's exactly what Stewart and others with more experience said they are hoping to provide.
"In order for women's ball hockey to move forward in New York City, I think it's important for women to have outlets to play with other female hockey players too so they can learn and play the game in a space dedicated to developing their skills and building camaraderie amongst their peers," Stewart said.
Coulson said she is excited to see her and other's dreams of gaining notoriety for women's ball hockey community come to fruition.
"I'm a big believer that women are just as good as men and that if we change the way we think and talk about women and hockey, then more and more people will get that," she said. "Some women just haven't had access that men have had. But if we can get these programs and get people started to show that 'Hockey is for Everyone,' then you will start to see more women playing and involved."