'Ice Hockey Is For Everybody': Female Athletes Of Color To Showcase Skills At Vt. Charity Tournament

Jul 19, 2018

Among the teams participating in this weekend's 11th annual Hockey Fights MS Vermont Tournament is the Brown Bears — a hockey team from out of state that's made up almost entirely of women of color.

The team's co-captains are Jasmine Bazinet-Phillips, who lives in Maryland, and Gina Weires, who lives in Delaware, both of whom are headed to Vermont with goals of scoring goals, raising money to fight multiple sclerosis and spreading the message that the game of hockey — in spite of its traditional profile — is not just for white men.

The Brown Bears will participate in the Vermont tournament which runs from Friday, July 20, through Sunday, July 22. Games will be played at local hockey venues in the state, with proceeds benefitting the Multiple Sclerosis Center at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.

Find excerpts from VPR's conversation with Bazinet-Phillips and Weires below. Listen above for more.

Youth hockey experiences

Weires: "I know when I was growing up, I was the only girl on an all-boys team, and I was also usually the only person of color in the whole area. And the first year or two for me were the most difficult, like feeling like I didn't quite fit in — even I remember things like, just the way the boys talked and everything. ... It was a big learning curve for me, but it was super worth it. I made a lot of really good friends. I feel like it really shaped who I am today."

Bazinet-Phillips: "Growing up on the ice, we did not see many people like us. And we have a passion for facilitating access to the game that we love. This March, as a Teach For America educator in Baltimore city, teaching low-income and primarily African-American students, I hosted a learn-to-play-ice-hockey field trip and Gina helped out on the ice. As a teacher, I'm able to rewrite narratives for my students and piecing together an all-female hockey player of color team is a part of recreating that narrative."

Challenges of the sport — and its culture

Weires: "I love how fast it is and competitive and, you know, pushing people around and really fighting. I like that the shifts are 45 seconds to a minute, and you have to give it your all and then you're done. ... I like the sprint. It's really challenging, and I think no matter what level you're playing at, it's always going to be a personal challenge for everybody."

Bazinet-Phillips: "Racism and sexism is definitely present on the ice in a predominately white and male-dominated sport, but that's why this is so important for us as the Brown Bears. We're excited to wear our tie-dye jerseys with a large bear paw print on the front and brown lettering in hopes to color the ice as a team, and we're playing to create a more warmer and inclusive ice surface for everyone."

The debut of the Brown Bears

Bazinet-Phillips: "So this will be the first time we're all playing together. This is the founding team."

Weires: "We have some really strong players. But you know that in all sports, that doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to gel together. We have luckily a few sets of people who have played together. We actually have a pair of sisters which is awesome, and I've played with both of them. I've played with Jasmine and another, a different woman as well. So I think we'll be in, like, a couple lines and things ... that will have chemistry already."

Goals for the upcoming Vermont tournament

Weires: "It would make me really happy if, you know, any girls out there — young girls — who, you know, may or may not have seen women ice hockey players, but probably haven't seen many women of color playing, realize that this is something that they can pursue. In college I played, and there were several people — you know,  I went to American University and it's pretty diverse — and there were several people who were like, ... 'I didn't think hockey was for me. I didn't think I could play.' You know, whether it came from their family that said, 'Oh no, that's for white boys.' So even if we don't necessarily hear from anybody, just knowing that maybe some kids out there can feel like they can actually play the sport."

Bazinet-Phillips: "I would say that this is not about winning for the Brown Bears, but we are definitely going to be there to compete. I think a lot of programs, they are interested in getting more people of color to participate and low-income people on the ice. But I think we should start thinking about, you know, can these people compete? And what I'm excited about for the Brown Bears is that this is a team of women that can compete."

Weires: "We're just excited to come up to Vermont, contribute to a great cause and show that ice hockey is for everybody."