Girls hockey photo

Annika Johnson of Sun Prairie co-op (left) brings the puck up the ice while defended by Madi Ungerer of Schofield D.C. Everest co-op during the first period of a WIAA girls hockey semifinal game in March. Madison-area rinks are holding Girls Hockey Weekend events on Saturday and Sunday.

M.P. KING, STATE JOURNAL ARCHIVES

Parents whose children participate in youth hockey might notice some disparities between the opportunities available for their son and what’s out there for their daughter.

Alicia Pelton said she has seen them, and that inspired her to put a spotlight on an event this weekend that hopes to take steps toward eliminating gender equity issues in hockey.

Events to mark Girls Hockey Weekend are scheduled for 16 rinks around Wisconsin, including in Waunakee, Verona and Prairie du Sac on Saturday and in Sun Prairie and Janesville on Sunday.

The international event, in its seventh year, aims to give girls of all ages a chance to try out hockey and provide those already playing the game a fun environment to bond.

Pelton, who heads the Madison organization Athletic Leadership Alliance, said she came to the realization that there was little knowledge among fellow parents of girls hockey players about the playing options that are available as well as little in the way of equity in offerings for girls and boys.

Getting more young girls interested in the sport, she said, is a way to bring about change.

“If you grow the numbers, there would be so many more opportunities,” Pelton said. “There’d be more teams that if they do play co-ed, they’re going to have three, four girls on a team. Or they can sustain a girls organization, which is a huge issue right now. Everybody’s struggling.”

In Wisconsin, 2,913 girls age 18 and under were registered with USA Hockey as players in the 2016-17 season. That’s only 2.4 percent more than the total of a decade earlier.

It’s also less than a quarter of the number of boys that were registered, and Pelton said gender biases and stereotypes continue in the game.

If more girls become involved, it could lead to a push for more teams to form and more chances for players to develop.

“We need to continue to grow the sport,” said Karyn Bye Dietz, a River Falls native who won a gold medal with the U.S. team in the first women’s hockey Olympics tournament in 1998. She now coaches girls hockey in Hudson.

“I think back in 1998 after the first Olympics, you saw a definite increase in numbers,” she said. “And then after a while it plateaued a little bit.”

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The 2018 Winter Olympics in February offers a once-every-four-years opportunity for women’s hockey to gain more of a foothold in the interests of young athletes, so this season is big for renewing interest.

“Every four years, that’s when our sport is showcased,” said Jackie Crum, an assistant coach for the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team. “The best players from around the world are on TV, and also that’s the most coverage we receive on TV.”

Pelton has a list of ways to help expand the experience for girls hockey players. Included are ways to increase communication between clubs and an idea for a database of former women’s players and coaches who could pass on their knowledge.

It’s a big undertaking, she said, but this weekend is one step.

“We start to get girls in there, and that’s really great,” Pelton said. “But what we have to do when we build those numbers is we have to teach those girls that they can go on and go into sports media, they can go into coaching, they can go into officiating, they can go into management.

“We don’t do a good job of that.”