Harlem Girls' Hockey Team Celebrates Diversity and Education

Learning more than defense


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Until 1987, most of the kids in Harlem played either basketball or baseball, due to accessible baseball fields and basketball courts. Then the founders of the Harlem league decided to emphasize education, making weekly math and geography classes mandatory for participation. Eventually, they began attracting kids from the borough, and by the time Wayne Gretzky introduced a clinic, interest exploded.

Ice Hockey in Harlem grew out of a desire to teach young neighborhood children a thrilling sport and a different way to learn teamwork. Eventually, there were enough girls participating who made it clear that they wanted their own team, that organizers created Lady Harlem. Program director Brad Preston said that while the girls could keep up with the boys, they formed an all-female team to see if they’d enjoy the sport more.

“We also had a really gung-ho group of girls who were 10,” says program director Brad Preston. “Even though they would have been fine playing with boys at 11 and 12 and maybe later, we thought, let’s get them their own team and see if that works for them.”

Head coach Amanda Adams said she wants to teach girls how to be competitive, that the skill isn’t just for boys. Maybe more than that, she wants her players to have a great time and pick up tools they can use for the rest of their lives.

“We want people to have fun and to have a positive experience. But we also want them to get real, hard skill development.”

Lady Harlem team member, Marwa Soussi, said that when she goes to college in the fall, she’ll remain focused on her education, an important value she learned from the league.

“Education is the goal in Ice Hockey in Harlem, so I always think about my education first. And then hockey. It’s an amazing program to be in.”

One of the other aspects Soussi loves about the league is that it brings women from all kinds of backgrounds together. Some teammates are Mexican, others are from Venezuela, and she herself is Arab. The league constantly inspires players to reach their goals on and off the ice. In March 2018, Lady Harlem met U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey team player, Amanda Kessel, who showed them what hard work can achieve; a gold medal.

Soussi said she found an example in Kessel’s team member, Hilary Knight. “She told me about her education path, how she played through high school, in college, and went on to be a professional. I want to be like her.”

Another professional player who learned of the girls’ hard work is Miye D’Oench, and once she heard of the Ice Hockey in Harlem’s mission, she was onboard, as the team celebrates diversity, while also accomplishing another very important mission:

“We’re talking about one kind of glass ceiling, which is the gender one, and Ice Hockey in Harlem is tackling three or four at a time: geographic, socioeconomic, racial,” she said. “Aside from building confidence, they’re breaking through these traditional stereotypes of hockey being a male, white, straight, affluent sport.”

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