Giving truth to Memphis youth
By Sydney Prather (White Station High School)
Southern hockey is breaking down barriers. Not only because it’s hockey in the football dominated south, but also because the Southern Professional Hockey League is home to the first woman to play professionally on an all-male team.
Two-time Olympian gold medalist Shannon Szabados is now the starting goalkeeper for the Columbus Cottonmouths in Georgia.
Szabados began playing at an early age. Growing up in Canada, it was common for children to start hockey young. Szabados played in co-ed leagues for most of her life, but as she got older, the gender gap began to show.
“I think as you get older the boys get a little stronger and a little faster, so the girls keep up that by just playing a smarter game,” Szabados said.
Szabados also said that playing with the boys improved her performance in the Olympics. (She was a member of the Canadian women’s national team in the 2010 Olympics in British Columbia, Vancouver and in 2014 in Sochi, Russia.) She was able to perfect her mental game as well as her physical game when going against all female teams.
“I wouldn’t trade the experience at all.” Szabados said.
Women playing with the boys is nothing new. Here in Memphis, the Christian Brothers High School hockey team has a female player on an otherwise all-male team. Greta Papa has been on the ice for many years. While living in Alaska she took up figure skating but eventually grew bored with it. She took up hockey and hasn’t stopped since.
When Papa moved to Memphis, the only teams were four high school teams from Christian Brothers, Germantown, Collierville, and Northern Mississippi. All were predominantly male teams, something Papa wasn’t as familiar with. However she joined the CBHS team and hasn’t looked back. She now plays right up with them every night.
Many women playing on all male teams hope other girls will follow. According to USA Hockety, in 2013-2014 148 girls and women played on female hockey teams in Tennessee; 67,230 participated nationwide with the largest numbers in states such as Illinois (2,758); Colorado (2,193) and Conneticut (2,435) (Numbers of girls and women playing on male teams are not required to be reported to the organization.) More women breaking gender barriers into higher leagues means inspiration for others to continue doing what they love.
“The worst that can happen is you get hurt. If you love what you’re doing, don’t let the boys psych you out.” Papa said.