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40 years later, Tompkins GHA celebrates its post-Title IX origins

02/19/2013, 2:15pm MST
By Mike Scandura

On Nov. 18, the Tompkins Girls Hockey Association celebrated the exact date 40 years ago that Cass Park was opened for first-time users, including members of TGHA. With that milestone, the oldest all-girls youth hockey association in New York was founded.
 
To celebrate, the association had a party for current players, alumni, parents and fans at which one of the founding players, Linda Dominic Hemmerich, made some pertinent remarks. Hemmerich noted that in 1972, her friend Margaret Stanton and her had “a desire and dream to play girls ice hockey.”
 
“Title IX was enacted by President Nixon in 1972,” Hemmerich said. “We were high school juniors in ’72. We talked about this hockey idea. We got our parents interested. We had their support and that of other community members who helped us take it to the next level. TGHA would not have happened without this.
 
“After the first signup, we realized there were girls interested in hockey. It’s not about winning a hockey game and records. It’s about girls playing ice hockey.”
 
Since then the TGHA has developed into an association that includes an initiation program, an 8-and-Under house program plus travel teams at the 10-U, 12-U, 14-U and 16-U/19-U levels, who’re officially known as the Ithaca Shooting Stars.
 
“My sense is there’s been an increase in the number of girls,” U-12 assistant coach C.J. DelVecchio said. “The initiation program is a free program to try and grow the sport. The numbers [in this program] are greater than they’ve been in the past.”
 
The emphasis in this program is on skill building, team play and fun.
 
The fact THGA is in its 40th season and still going strong is noteworthy.
 
“Where we are is a college town with a transitory population,” DelVecchio said. “People come from all over the country, and there’s a strong hockey connection with people coming in and out of town.
 
“Plus, Ithaca is a very progressive town in that it’s supportive of equal rights and women’s rights. We also have a very strong Cornell women’s hockey program. It wasn’t taken as seriously back then as it is now.”
 
As part of its affiliation with Cornell’s women’s team, the TGHA has a Cub Club.
 
“The Cub Club pairs a girl with a big sister who’s a player on Cornell’s women’s team,” DelVecchio said. “The younger girls really enjoy this and go to all the games.
 
“They chat with the players and sometimes there’s a movie night. It’s an opportunity for girls to watch women play and to see role models.”
 
The 12-U team last month captured the Top Gun Tournament in Amherst and went undefeated in five games. DelVecchio’s team beat the Tonawanda Bolts 2-1 in overtime in the final with Nora Cowett scoring with four seconds remaining.
 
“I think this was an accomplishment at this level,” DelVecchio said. “Last year the 19-U team placed second in states. At the 12-U level it’s unusual, but for our association it’s not unusual.
 
“The TGHA teams always have brought strong female players who’ve won titles and games.”
 
In DelVecchio’s opinion, winning the Top Gun Tournament was important for the girls’ self-esteem.
 
“We haven’t found a lot of teams in our league that are of equal level, so we’ve been playing a lot of teams that are a step up or a step down,” she said. “One of our girls asked me after the third game, ‘Is this really us? Are we winning?’ In a way, they had to learn how to win.”
 
One reason for the success of the various TGHA teams is the fact they’ve adopted USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
 
“[Coach] Eric [Eisenhut] and I follow USA Hockey’s American Development Model,” DelVecchio said. “It’s about skills and not winning the game all the time. Parents who don’t understand what we’re trying to teach the girls are focused on scoring and have higher expectations for their girls.
 
“Their skills have blossomed, especially in terms of finding the edges on their skates and the tenacity of getting to the puck.”
 
Another plus for TGHA is the Ithaca Shooting Stars Invitational Tournament, which last December was held for the 14th consecutive year. A total of 23 teams encompassing more than 200 girls played at five age levels.
 
“I think people love coming to Ithaca,” DelVecchio said. “It’s a small city that offers a lot of amenities and the tournament is early enough in the season so as not to interfere with holidays.
 
“People enjoy visiting colleges and downtown Ithaca. For many people it’s a day trip.”
 
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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When it comes to women’s hockey, there is no argument that USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have the two premier programs in the world. Earlier this month, their young talent took to the ice in Lake Placid, New York, as a part of the U18 and U22 Select Series.

While there were several athletes on both teams who competed for their country in such an event for the first time, it also marked a special occasion for Melissa Szkola. An experienced official who has worked a handful of International Ice Hockey Federation events, Lake Placid marked her first USA-Canada affair. USA Hockey caught up with the Michigan native to talk about the amazing international experience and her evolving officiating career.


USA Hockey: What was it like to be a part of the U22 and U18 Select Series’

Melissa Szkola: The experience was wonderful. It was fantastic. We’ve essentially got the two best teams in the world competing against each other, so the learning experience, working with the officials that we have, is always amazing. You leave here a better person, a better official; that’s what we’re here for. That’s what I look forward to the most at these big-time events: the level of hockey and what you get out of it as a whole.

USAH: How did you first get into officiating?

Szkola: It’s been nine years since I got my start. I was a competitive figure skater and my older brother played hockey, so I’ve always been around the game, but it was my husband who actually got me into the officiating side of it. When we started dating, he was a roller and ice hockey official. He asked me to come with one time and I said ‘okay.’ That’s how I got started. It’s something he and I have in common and he is my biggest supporter. I wouldn’t be here without him.

USAH: So nine years under your belt, how would you describe some of your past IIHF events?

Szkola: I’ve had a handful of experiences with international tournaments. Each one has brought a new set of skills to my plate. You learn a lot about yourself and you learn a lot from your supervisors from different countries as well. To get out and work with other female officials and learn from them and your supervisors is amazing.

Being in another country, where sometimes there aren’t people who even speak English, is a really unique experience as well. The communication that you learn to speak with non-English speaking officials really makes you appreciate what you have in common – hockey.

USAH: How did the Select Series compare to those events?

Szkola: The level of play, it’s definitely much higher at the Select Series than any of the championships that I’ve been to. I wouldn’t say that the intensity is much different, because at each level they are competing for their highest achievement. The intensity is the same, the importance is the same, but the level of play is definitely much better; it’s faster, it’s crisper. Your awareness just has to be that much higher.

USAH: Did calling a game with high-caliber players like those at the Select Series shake up any nerves?

Szkola: I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous before we got on the ice. I’ve watched Team USA and Team Canada compete before, so you know the level at which they intend to play. Being out there with it, you just know where the emotions can go sometimes. It was a little nerve-wracking before the start, but as soon as that puck drops, you have a job to do. USA Hockey does a fantastic job developing us; I feel like they wouldn’t put you out there if you weren’t ready. Once that puck drops, you’re kind of at home.

USAH: What’s next for your officiating future?

Szkola: The support that I have, not only from my hometown in Michigan, but also the support and development USA Hockey has given really sets you up for success if you want to take it in that direction. That is my goal. I do want to skate in the Olympics. Moving forward I am going to continue to improve upon each experience that I have, because you can always be better. Mistakes do get made, so you learn from those and improve yourself. 

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