“Hockey is For Everyone.”
Hockey is for everyone.
The hope for this pursuit is that it permeates every level of the sport.
It’s a slogan, a movement, a mission. It’s a promise. It’s something to constantly strive for.
But there lies an undeniable necessity for another word as well, that is just as vital to this mission: if hockey is to truly be for everyone, it must be by everyone.
This recognition of community and strong belief in what people can achieve together is a core value of Marcella Coulson, Founder & President of Women’s Ball Hockey NYC. Though her leadership is a backbone of the WBHNYC organization, Coulson never ceases to point the spotlight outward, reminding each member of the community that the programming and access WBHNYC is able to provide is made possible by them.
“They are the ones making things happen. When every person sees the impact and difference they can make, that everyone is making, they're even more inspired to step up. We all are. ”
Coulson grew up over 400 miles north of the Big Apple in Burlington, Ontario, just outside of Toronto. Her love of ball hockey was born on the pavement of her parents driveway where she would shoot around with her neighbors. In 2016, she moved to New York City, bringing her passion for inclusive leadership and equity in sport with her.
She also brought her pure love of hockey.
And what did she find? Immense possibility to grow the women’s game.
The NYC ball hockey community was alive and within it was a diverse community of intelligent, supportive, and resourceful women who were passionate about the game. How many more women were there in this concrete jungle who’d simply never been given the chance to play or who didn’t know that there was a space for them in the game of hockey?
“I believe people can do anything if they have equitable access to the resources and support needed to succeed. Providing that access in hockey and breaking down barriers to participation is a big part of what we are trying to do,” Coulson shares. “I believe that in order to harness the full potential sports have to bring people together, we need to put in the work to ensure they are an inclusive space where everyone feels not only included and respected, but empowered to make things happen. Sometimes it’s not about waiting for the ball to come to you, but pushing forward and going after the ball and taking the shot. [We] need to ensure everyone has an equitable opportunity to do this – that’s the issue. It’s not like everyone has a fair shot to do this. Not yet. We need to keep listening and working towards making space for All women in the sport.”
Luckily, rather than being a “wait-around-until-it-feels-possible” type of woman, Coulson had a “we-are-going-to-make-this-possible” mindset. The group of women she’d met in New York City shared that same hunger.
In 2018, the non-profit organization, Women’s Ball Hockey NYC, was born.
It was created for women who’d grown up playing the sport just as much as it was created for women who’d never considered the possibility. It was created for girls who’d dreamed of hockey but never been given the opportunity, and for girls who’d never heard hockey could be played in sneakers. It was created with the unifying mission statement:
“To strengthen the NYC ball hockey community by specifically empowering female players of all ages through opportunities that foster inclusiveness, allyship, and respect.”
WBHNYC was able to be formed for this community because it was founded by a group of women who saw an opportunity to expand the game of hockey.
Let’s jump forward half a decade and take a look.
WBHNYC has now held four Hock-away Women’s Ball Hockey tournaments for women in the NYC community and beyond.
The organization hosts skill clinics and scrimmages run and organized by female leaders and volunteers.
In the summer of 2022, WBHNYC organized the first ever women’s ball hockey league in the history of New York City. The inaugural season consisted of 3-teams, captained by Lauren Jones, Ryann Geldner/Charlotte McAuley, and Courtney Pensavalle.
While The Liberty Cup was lifted for the first time by The Black Widows, it was truly lifted by an entire community who came together to make the league possible.
November 2022 brought another huge moment for the organization when WBHNYC kicked off its youth programming with an all-girls “Learn to Play Street Hockey” clinic. The clinic was led by certified coach, decorated player, and women’s ball hockey leader, Cherie Stewart.
This implementation of youth programming continued in the new year as WBHNYC teamed up with John H. Finley School and USA Ball Hockey to provide its first youth series. The coaches in the series were WBHNYC volunteers and allies who dedicated their time to bring hockey to a group of kids, many of whom had never held a stick before. Ryann Geldner – teacher, coach, and valued member of the WBHNYC community – spearheaded this youth series, as her most recent endeavor as an unwavering advocate for youth hockey in New York City.
It is incredible to see how far Women’s Ball Hockey NYC has come, especially knowing that this is still only the tip of the iceberg.
But the true impact of WBHNYC and the growth of this community cannot be seen in event titles or lists. It’s something that is felt.
It’s felt when at the end of their first youth clinic a group of girls and boys alike gather in a circle, put their hands together and scream out “Hockey for fun!”
It’s felt when on a sunny day, as league members gather together on the rink for a skills clinic and scrimmage, a woman comes up and introduces herself, asking who we are and what we do because she says it just looks like we are having so much fun.
It’s felt when a new player gets their first goal.
“During our National Girls and Women in Sports Day scrimmage a newer player scored her first goal. She immediately exclaimed, ‘that’s my first goal!’ and I watched her entire team gather round her with huge smiles and high fives,” shares Lauren Jones, Co-founder and treasurer of WBHNYC. “And what’s amazing about our community isn’t the fact that we celebrate our own goals, it’s that we celebrate the goals of our teammates.”
It’s felt through the joy. It’s felt through the adversity.
“As a founding board member of WBHNYC, I have always recognized our work as empowering. Never have I appreciated it more than this past year, when I was diagnosed with a rare disorder that has compromised my mobile skills and changed my whole way of life,” say Mia Juhng. “This shift has not altered my way of thinking, however: strength, both physical and mental, can come from feeling capable. Women lifting each other up is a very powerful means of cultivating resilience, something I lean into very heavily in tandem with my love of hockey.”
The impact of this community is felt.
It’s often said that you have to “see it to believe it.” But when you feel it? Well, that takes on an entirely new power.
“The community is truly wonderful and welcoming and allows New Yorkers to connect with other individuals who they may normally never meet,” shares WBHNYC member Kelly Groglio (KG). “I think what is great about hockey for women is that it encourages us to confidently take up space, be aggressive, and assertive; which isn't something women are historically taught or empowered to do. Combine this with a positive and supportive community of other women and you will make meaningful connections and have a lot of fun.”
Long Island local, coach, and player, Meghan Lavery, shared a similar opinion.
“Playing in NYC with your whole hockey crew has been amazing,” she said. “Every time I see you guys it always makes me feel like the women's ball hockey community is growing and it’s exciting to finally see it happen locally. I hope to be a part of bringing Long Island and NYC hockey women together one day.”
Lavery expressed this after driving over an hour bright and early on a Saturday morning to help coach children at a youth clinic.
“I hope that all the kids but especially the girls stick with hockey,” she added. “And I hope that seeing women teaching the clinic resonates with them. I think that seeing a woman in that role gives the girls a little extra boost of confidence to keep at it. Its special to be a part of an organization/community who are giving girls the tools they need to play this amazing game.”
WBHNYC member and coach Annie Artz chimed in after also spending her Saturday morning in the school gym.
“What I love about coaching young kids is pretty simple: it’s seeing what a great time they are having while playing hockey. It’s such a fun way to give back to a sport and community that’s given me so much.”
Hockey is for everyone.
Hockey is by everyone.
As we look back on these five years of Women’s Ball Hockey NYC, and perhaps more importantly, as we look forward, it is impossible not to take a moment to celebrate who the WBHNYC community is by.
Because in this organization’s story there is not one sole author. There is a constant flood of creators and each new page brings another person who makes this possible.
Women’s Ball Hockey NYC is by the women who cram into the subway with all their gear to make a scrimmage.
It’s by the leaders who work to get permits for the rinks.
It’s by the bagel shop who donated food so that the kids trying the sport for the first time had breakfast.
It’s by the coaches who risked a parking ticket to make it on time to lead a clinic.
It’s by the security guard who opened the doors to the school.
It’s by the male allies who act as referees, goalies, and volunteers.
It’s by the caregiver who stumbled in after working a night shift and told us he came right to the gym rather than going to bed because of how much his child wanted to play hockey.
It’s by the women who take a portion of their paycheck to give to growing the game of women’s hockey.
It’s by the teammate who cheers when you get a goal.
It’s by the teammate who cheers when you don’t.
Women’s Ball Hockey NYC is by the people who show up for each other, for the game of hockey, and for women’s empowerment.
“I love playing sports because they remind me how much more I have to give,” says Coulson. “Even when I think I have nothing left, I somehow find a little more. I think this is especially true of team sports, where I feel almost limitless in my capacity to give more for my teammates — I always work hardest when I’m not just playing for myself but for others. It’s not about you, it's about what the team can do. Sports has taught me a lot about humility and community, which has kept me playing. Hockey without community is just a game — its the moments we share that make the sport so memorable.”
WBHNYC is by everyone in this incredible community.
That’s what makes its mission possible.