Enrollments are up in girls-only introductory program
By Greg Bates Special to AHAI
Tracy Cimba had been keeping an eye on the number of players registering for the new Girls United Rec Level (GURL) Hockey, aka Girls United Hockey, program based in the suburbs of Chicago.
The first week in January the total girls who had signed up was 35 for two locations. But within one week, that number spiked to 75.
“The success has exceeded our expectations,” Cimba said. “I think obviously sometimes you go into things with lower expectations and hope for the best. We were hoping to get 20 girls at each location.
“It was one of those build it and they will come scenarios.”
“I think a lot of the success can be attributed to word of mouth,” said Cimba, who is the co-chairperson with AHAI Director Chuck Smith for AHAI’s intro to girls’ hockey programming. “We did a photoshoot with girls, so there was very good visual content on our website to help people understand what the program is about. We also did an amazing video, which is on the website as well. I think those things all helped families see what they were getting into, so to speak.”
The goal of Girls United Hockey is to offer a program for girls only, keep the cost low, have the ability to borrow equipment and have a low commitment at just one hour per week.
“I think overall the feedback we’ve been getting is we were spot on in terms of breaking down a lot of the barriers that stopped people from signing their girls up for hockey,” said Cimba, who noted registration is closed the rest of this eight-class session because of the popularity.
There was an equipment fitting at both locations the weekend of Jan. 5-6, and the following weekend was the first on-ice sessions.
The equipment fitting has been essential. It allows parents to not have to go out and pay for equipment for their young players.
“They don’t want to buy it because their fear is, ‘I’m going to buy $200-300 worth of equipment and I get my daughter out there and she hates it,’” Cimba said.
In all, 76 girls ages 3-10 got onto the ice that first weekend. The two age levels — #funGURL, which is ages 4-8, and #superGURL, ages 6-10 — were on the ice at the same time.
“We had a sense that it was programming that wasn’t being offered that would not just serve but also encourage young girls and their parents to try hockey,” Smith said. “And the focus on — it’s not an anti-boy thing, it’s not an anti-inclusive thing — but for young ladies, young girls, giving them an opportunity to participate in a girls’-only environment. This has essentially validated what we thought was out there, which was an underserved market that provides this at an early age.”
The first session followed USA Hockey’s American Development Model (ADM) plan and gave the girls a lot of time on the ice. The girls broke into three to four sections — depending on their age and skill level — and were aided by adult instructors Brit Volini, Julie Sapio Sochacki, Carla Pentimone and Kelly Bozelka. The student coaches were also a big help. There was one-on-one time available for each participant.
“We really break that ice up instead of being a 200×85 foot sheet, it’s several different small areas,” Smith said. “Then the instructors tailor the skills and the instruction based on the level. We have young girls as young as 3 or 4 that have never skated before and some girls have taken classes before, so we break them up into different groups.”
Cimba has loved all the positive feedback flooding in from parents. With so much interest in the program, parents are requesting adding a third location in the north suburbs. Organizers are looking into that as well as adding a spring/summer program.
“My daughter absolutely loved it!” said Amanda Stone, who has a daughter in the program, in a post on Girls Hockey United’s Facebook page. “Everyone was inviting. The teen helpers were spot on with helping the littles. My daughter came home with so much confidence. It was her first time being on the ice. Can’t wait for next week. This gave us an affordable experience that we otherwise wouldn’t have had.”
Said parent Anna Marie Olson: “We struggled on the ice but the older hockey girls were so great about getting my daughter up again. What a wonderful organization helping little girls get introduced to hockey, make friends and build confidence. Thanks Girls United Hockey!”
Cimba said it’s been a great collaborative effort between staff and coaches to make sure everything came together without a hitch.
“It’s been really fun and the girls have been amazing and the families are awesome,” Cimba said. “It’s just one of those volunteer hockey experiences that you feel like, ‘Wow, we just made a big difference in the market.’ That, to me, is what’s very rewarding.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.