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Madison Gay Hockey Association Champions Inclusion and Builds Community

By Brianna Rhone, 06/21/24, 11:15AM MDT

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15 percent of the 270-member organization are new skaters, a number that continues to climb

Avery Cordingley, board president of the Madison Gay Hockey Association, wants anyone in earshot to know that on and off the ice, a hockey player is a hockey player. 

Cordingley believes the more hockey players in the world the merrier, and the MGHA is ensuring that anyone of any orientation and gender identity can lace up their skates. 

“It gives players an opportunity to see how positive this community is, and to see that queer hockey players are just hockey players who want to have fun like everybody else,” Cordingley said.

The Madison Gay Hockey Association was founded in 2006, quickly blooming into one of the largest gay hockey organizations in the country with 270 members. Growth has been exponential, and the number of new players hitting the ice every year continues to increase. 

Inspired by his experience with the New York Gay Hockey Association, founder Patrick Farabaugh moved to Madison, Wisconsin, with a singular goal in mind - to give his new community a chance to discover the game of hockey and ignite a spark within the LGBTQ+ community. 

Motivated by the NYGHA’s welcoming and no judgement mindset, Farabaugh, who never played hockey until joining the NYGHA, was determined for the Madison Gay Hockey Association to have a similar model that helped give members of the LGBTQ+ community a chance to succeed on the ice. 

Players such as Suzanne Doody can attest to the way the organization has transformed the Madison hockey community. A member since 2009, Doody has worked with countless new hockey players, getting them acclimated to the sport and assisting them in every step of their journey. Having no previous formal hockey experience of her own, Doody can recall the way a friend recommended she try lacing up skates and hitting the ice. Her fervor for the game took off, and she knew she wanted to be involved with MGHA in any way she could.

Doody eventually obtained her USA Hockey Level-4 coaching certification and she has helped lead multiple Try Hockey for Free events.

Now, Doody wears many hats for the Madison Gay Hockey Association. She serves as a coach, tournament director, player and all-around cheerleader. 

“We might be the most beginner focused organization,” Doody said. “We'll talk to people this summer as we do our recruiting, asking ‘Hey, do you want to play hockey?’ They respond with, ‘Well, I don't know how to skate.’ We don't care. We will teach you how to skate. We will help you find all the gear. We will be there every step of the way, and we get people to love hockey.” 

Doody didn’t want the fear of failure to stop anyone interested in coming out and finding a place of belonging in the organization. This season, 15% of the MGHA’s membership are new players and the association has an entire division dedicated to beginners.

“We’re half hockey, half community,” Doody said. “We don't care if you know how to skate, but we want you to come be a part of us.” 

For Cordingley, their path to the MGHA was that of many LGBTQ+ players. A nonbinary transgender athlete, Cordingley’s time in hockey spaces was fraught with concerns over whether they would be accepted in a locker room. The MGHA’s drive to eliminate bigotry and facilitate education and acceptance was a guiding principle that brought Cordingley to the organization. 

“It started as a place for people from marginalized backgrounds to come together and find a safe place to play hockey where they could be themselves, and it's transformed into sort of like a big community where if you are a person who has felt marginalized, this is a place for you, full stop,” Cordingley said. “The MGHA is a place where you don’t have to feel weird about your identity, and we do a lot of work to help people feel safe.”

Every year, the Madison Gay Hockey Association hosts the Madison Gay Hockey Association Classic. The tournament strives to create an engaging and congenial tournament environment for LGBTQ+ players. This year’s affair topped close to 300 athletes and 18 teams of all different skillsets from all over the country, bringing with them stories of their own leagues and a festive spirit.  

“We get a lot of players not from our area who come in and get put on a team and they meet new people and learn more about us,” Doody said. “It's been great for getting the word out there, and connecting us with other leagues in the country, because certainly there are plenty of leagues that I knew nothing about until they started showing up to our tournament and our players started going to theirs.”

Word of mouth has been pivotal for MGHA’s growth, seeping into the lexicon of the Madison hockey community. Doody recalls her local women’s adult hockey league raving about MGHA, their message of equality reaching into the locker room and on the ice.  

“I’ve never really talked about the MGHA before, but other people in my women’s league have, and then people start asking questions and they learn more and join us later. Other people are doing the outreach and it's being well received from the people I've heard from.”

The increased curiosity equals exposure for the organization, an integral piece leading to education about the LGBTQ+ hockey community. The MGHA knows this well. In 2021 they began their “Friendship Series,” a string of friendly games with Team Trans, all-transgender and non-binary hockey team founded in Boston, that worked to facilitate conversations and foster healthy dialogue within the hockey community. 

“We wanted to get that message out,” Cordingley said. “We’re just hockey players who want to have a good time. We're here, we're queer and we're just like you. Exposure and education are huge to do that.” 

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