THERE ARE memories of how it used to be, of little girls circling in white skates on the frozen lake, the boys slicing past them, mufflers flying, on a quick foray of teasing, then back to their game on the secluded ice by the bridge. The girls giggled and returned to trying to skate backwards.
It took them a while, but girls are realizing that boys don't have to have all the fun. There's a crew of about 30 women who get together at Tyson's Ice Rink Sunday nights and knock down one of the last male bastions -- ice hockey.
Now, there are some parts to bulwarkstorming that have to be endured. The man I borrowed the equipment from -- yes, I had to try it, too -- had a few words to say. Like "There won't be any time-outs for runs in your stockings!"
And the equipment, slung over my shoulder in a pack, weighed about 20 pounds, and the stick was so long it barely fit diagonally in my car. I didn't use hockey skates, because I'd never tried them, and I laced up the figure skates too tightly and cut off circulation. And I didn't know that the shin guards had a hook to secure them to the laces, so they were centered on my anklebone instead of my instep, and everybody laughed. And someone later told me I called the helmet a hat. And I skated for 15 minutes with the cup of the chin strap protecting my cheek instead of my chin.
I mean, let's get this all out. I mean, let's talk about the incompetence of inexperience, and have a good laugh about it now, because that's all it is, you guys -- inexperience.
Sue Hardesty, captain of the Redcoats women's hockey team, says she barely knew how to skate a few years ago. "There are a few people like me on the team. In high school I'd always concentrated on academic activities. I was always the slowest in school sports, the last one in a race. I thought I was a real natural klutz.
"In my freshman year at Rice I had a gym teacher who got through to me that I could learn to play sports if someone would just show me and take a little time with me.I realized nobody had ever taught me before, that's why I couldn't do sports.
"After that, I tried everything."
But many of the women on the team played sports regularly in high school and have what Hardesty terms "a second sport," like gymnastics, tennis, softball or soccer.
Ages on the team range from 13 to 39. Hardesty is a legal assistant to Rep. Lester Wolff, and other team members are private businesswomen, or secretaries, or paralegals, or students.
Their team is registered with and regulated by the Amateur Hockey Association of the United CONTINUED ON PAGE 25. FROM PAGE 1. States (AHAUS). And they are the only female team in the southeast district, a 17-state area that includes 200 teams. To play another AHAUS women's team, the Redcoats have to go to Delaware or Pennsylvania. The division director, John Crerar, estimates that 30 individual women are scattered throughout the other, essentially male, teams.
Across the country, in the 1977-78 season, 11,048 teams were registered with AHAUS. Of them, 186 were girls' or women's teams. Most of those are in Massachusetts (54), Michigan (35) and Minnesota (31), for the obvious reason that there's lots of ice there.
Crerar says women have been playing organized ice hockey "going back 15 years, in Massachusetts and Michigan.Now it's beginning to spring up all over the place."
It's happening because girls are getting into participatory sports at an early age: Soccer was once a traditionally male sport because of its roughness, and now you'll find that half the peewee soccer crowd at the playground is female. Girls are throwing away their jump-ropes and jacks in favor of the more exciting team sport.
Phil Schnibbe, the Redcoats' coach, says the women on his team started out as figure skaters and got bored with it. And why not? "You get someone who plays basketball, say, and tell him to skate in circles and he'll say 'Forget it.' But he'll play an ice hockey game."
Same with Hardesty: "Figure skating is such a specialized sport. If you want to get good at it, you have to put in so much time and effort. And it's so disciplined. Unless you want to just go to the public skating rink and go around and around and around in circles, there's not that much for you."
Schnibbe, who's 23 and took up coaching the team (which included his sister) when his dad dropped out, says it's not all that easy for some of the women to learn, though they never lack enthusiasm. "I have a couple of girls out there who never threw a ball in their life. They have never had to swing a stick. I think I'm going to teach them plays, and they don't know how to hold a hockey stick.
"The older ones didn't have sports in school," Schnibbe says. "I say to them, 'You mean you never threw a tennis ball?' I laugh at them. And then find out it's true. Nobody ever gave them a chance."
Probably one good reason women have stayed out of ice hockey is that it's known as a very rough game. But that's what all the padding is supposed to guard against. Hardesty says in her three years of playing hockey she's never been hurt. "I've been hit by pucks and gotten big purple bruises, or fallen and felt a little sore for a couple of days. For our whole team, we had one collision, last year, and our team member didn't have a face mask on. Her forehead was cut by the other girl's helmet and she needed a couple of stitches. This year it wouldn't have happened."
It wouldn't happen because, for the first time, this year they're registered with AHAUS, where teams are required to wear face masks and internal mouth guards. This is also the first year the Redcoats allowed checking on their team.
Schnibbe's told them how to step in front of somebody to get in the way, and to absorb the blow when she runs into you. "Not to give a mean body check. The puck is on one side of you and your opponent is on the other. What you're doing is separating the girl from the puck. That's all that we want done.
"In the pros, you'll just see them fly and smash into the wall -- and I love that, by the way -- but I don't want the girls doing it.
"After we play a few games I'll know more, I might have to teach them, if we start getting hit bad, to put a hip into someone to knock them down.
"If a check is done right, it can be pretty, too. They can be skating along and next thing you know, they're four feet in the air looking straight down on the ice."
In informal pick-up games at the Fairfax Ice Rink, Hardesty has met with a little roughing up, though she says "The guys will not check a woman." Not knowingly, anyway. All that padding is a great equalizer. "I don't have any hair hanging out. I look like a barrel. Sometimes they don't know I'm a woman. So they give me a check or knock me into the boards.
"Just the other night I was going after a puck in the corner, and one guy came over to try to get it away. Then a second guy came and leaned into me. I figured I was already covered by the first guy, so I said, 'Hey, buddy!' He looked shocked. He realized from my voice I was a woman. He didn't get six feet near me all night. In fact, he'd go in the other direction when he saw me."
There are occasional derogatory remarks, like the goalie who said, "I can't be scored on by those girls." And, says Hardesty, "One fellow who said he liked playing against girls because they missed all the passes. I thought it was very funny because he was a beginner.
"But the guys who are really good seem to respect us for being out there. It's often the beginners who have an inflated view of themselves."
It may take a little getting used to, "ladies" bumping into people without apologizing. Sue Hopkins, an art major at the University of Maryland, is on the Redcoats' less-experienced B team. "I like to come here and vent my frustrations," says Hopkins. "I like aggressive sports and this is about as aggressive as you can get. But even so, I crashed into the goalie out there when I was making a shot, and I wanted to say, 'Hey, I'm sorry.' Most of the girls on the B team are apologetic. But" -- she motions to the A team scrimmaging on the ice -- "not out here."
As for men's reactions to her hockey, "If anything, it's interesting. I went out with this guy Friday night, and he said, 'I went to a hockey game with the Caps.' I said, 'Oh really? You should come out and see me skate some time.' He was really surprised, but he didn't think anything bad about it.
"People are accepting a lot these days. And a lot of the women that come out here are really self-sufficient. They wouldn't get much ribbing because they know what they're doing."
They get ready to play, and come out on the ice, wearing favorite T-shirts: the Caps, the Flyers, No. 9 and "I wouldn't be surprised if my daughter were having an affair."
Soon they'll be wearing other insignia, because they've got a sponsor now -- Anheuser-Busch. It was between them and an armwrestling team.
Coincidentally, Schnibbe is a long-time collector of Budweiser paraphernalia. "When my friends found out about the sponsor, they said, 'It's your dream come true. Thirty women, with Bud pasted all over them, stop and go at your whistle.'
"I'm a male chauvinist pig. I come out there and let them know it. I can stand for all the men, and they can take it out on me. I love the attention. I just love coaching them girls, er, ladies, er, women."