Carole Schwartz’s mother Karen helped bring ringette to Elmira in the late 1960s. Now Schwartz is trying to save the sport for another generation.
Woolwich Minor Ringette is on thin ice; the organization is facing both a shortage of players and a low profile in a hockey-mad community.
“It’s a sport that not a lot of people know about,” Schwartz said. “Either you know it and you love it or you’ve never heard of it before.”
Schwartz herself is a diehard ringette fan and has been playing since she was five. She and her sister would watch their mom play, and she would watch them in turn.
Ringette was invented in 1963 as a winter sport for girls. On the surface, it seems like hockey played with rubber rings instead of pucks – the nets, the number of players on the ice, the skating and passing.
However, Schwartz said the game has more in common with basketball or lacrosse played on ice. Players aren’t allowed to carry the ring over the blue line, which forces more passing and strategizing. The game is faster too, because once a player has stabbed her stick through the ring, she can skate without worrying about stickhandling.
For Schwartz, there’s another, more subtle difference: it’s a sport for girls, dominated by girls. It’s competitive but fun, and there isn’t the kind of pressure that comes with trying to make the NHL.
“I really think it was made for girls for a reason,” Schwartz said.
That’s not to say boys can’t play. Boys are welcome at any age, and many parents start their boys in ringette to develop their skating skills before switching to hockey. But the current emphasis is on attracting girls to the sport.
Schwartz and her team as doing as much they can to promote ringette with the few executive members they have. On top of boosting the sport’s profile, they’re holding open registration at Elmira Sports Aug. 25, 26 and 27, from 4-6 p.m. The cost of registration includes a skating development clinic with local skating instructor Scott Strachan.
In the past, people interested in playing would have to sign up at the year end banquet or contact a member of the organization.
“If you don’t know who to ask, you’re going to err on the side of not asking,” Schwartz said.
They’re also planning an event in September where people can try the game for free. Ringette Canada has an outreach program for new and struggling organizations, and they’re hoping to have Ringette Canada staff on hand.
Slumping ringette numbers have gone hand in hand with the growth of women’s hockey. Schwartz points to vibrant programs in Waterloo, Guelph and Elora-Fergus as evidence a community can sustain both girl’s hockey and ringette.
Even if the marketing campaign doesn’t lead immediately to a surge in numbers, Schwartz said they’ll consider it a success if they can create some buzz around ringette.
“Just to get the chatter going around ringette would be amazing,” she said.
For registration information, contact Tim Waters at 519-664-1233. For more information on sponsorship, contact Steve Jacobi at 519-669-4949 or Carole Schwartz at 519-669-0760.