Girl Power?

How will the revolution in women's sports play out for the next generation?

Bonpadre may be part of another indication that some girls still yearn for— and insist on— a sports culture that doesn't bend over backward to assert its femininity: She is one of thousands of girls who have taken up ice hockey in the last couple of years. According to USA Hockey, female participation in the sport has increased fourfold since 1991, to some 24,000— about three-quarters of them under age 16. Currently Bonpadre plays for a local recreational center team, but when she enters high school next year, she'll go out for the boys' non-checking team. (There's no girls' team yet.) "I've been playing softball since I was six," she says, "and you can just stand around a lot. Hockey is nonstop action. It gives you a certain rush when you get out there."

Shanna Rodriguez gets set to swing like she's squashing a grapefruit.
Carla Gahr
Shanna Rodriguez gets set to swing like she's squashing a grapefruit.

A Massachusetts high school player, Jodi Nemser-Abrahams, articulates that rush bluntly: "It's awesome to be tough." A competitive swimmer since childhood, Nemser-Abrahams learned how to skate only last year when she decided to go out for her high school JV girls' hockey team in suburban Boston. She has no plans to pursue the sport as an elite scholarship athlete— "I can't even make high school varsity"— but looks to hockey for a pleasure and power that are hard to find anywhere else. "A lot of girls in my school are so processed," she says with an audible sneer. "They cultivate a frail look and act like they're weak. In hockey, though, girls aren't afraid of their strength."

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