Untwist the brush from your mothers broom, file off the picks of your figure skates, put some sort of a helmet on and meet me at the arena. With those words from a woman named Carol Fisher back in 1972, ringette was born in Woolwich Township. One of the girls to heed that call was Brenda Poole, and she has made the sport a passionate component of her life ever since.
Earlier this year Poole announced she would be leaving her post as the president of the Woolwich Minor Ringette Association, a position she has held for the past eight seasons during one of the darkest times in their club’s history.
That decision has given her a chance to reflect on the nearly four decades of involvement in the sport, where it has been and where it is heading.
“I was the first to jump in, I thought it was right up my alley,” said Poole, who was 13 when she first signed up. “I don’t remember much about that first year other than learning to skate and having fun.”
The sport enjoyed a boom in the early going. That first team formed the same year the St. Jacobs arena opened, and they had only 10 players. By 1975, however, the association boasted 100.
Even the players’ mothers, led by Carol Fisher, Karen Schwartz and Brenda’s mother Mary Metzger, organized their own Thursday morning league in 1973/74 so that they too could enjoy the sport.
“The ladies said ‘we’ll send our girls off to school and go play ringette.’ It was just way too much fun and they were going to learn it too,” Poole laughed.
The number of players in the association would more than double throughout the 1980s, but began to wane in the late 1990s and into the 2000s once Woolwich got its own girls’ hockey association.
Having served on the executive for a number of years already, Poole became the president in 2003 and set out to try to save her beloved sport.
“I can’t take any credit for building the association and making all these wonderful things happen,” Poole
said. “The key was survival and keeping active.”
Through her efforts, such as reviving the annual Sugar Ring tournament and renewing the recruitment, training and coaching efforts of younger players, the league managed to survive and is once again starting to grow.
She said that the developmental teams with girls aged four and five years old right through to 10 years old is beginning to grow, and now has six different teams.
“We had to rebuild the association and we started working from the ground roots up developing the younger players and filling the association from the bottom up.”
She has decided to step down from her position as president after the politics and procedure involved in running the association became too much, passing the torch on to new president Carole Schwartz – who was once coached by Poole back in 1977 while making her way through the system.
“She always has a great sense of enthusiasm and an enormous smile on her face,” said Schwartz, who joined the executive three years ago as a volunteer. “She wanted everyone to just enjoy the sport and learn to trust each other.
“Her commitment is just incredible.”
Poole is certain that the association remains in good hands. She will remain on in a minimized capacity as past-president just to help with the transition.
“There are lots of good local people with lots of energy and ideas and the focus on the kids, definitely if it doesn’t increase, it will hold its own.”
Ringette will always have a special place in her heart for the way it has brought her family together. Not only does Poole continue to play, her mother – who will be 74 this year – also still plays in the Thursday morning recreational league, the only remaining player from that original league in the early ’70s.
Poole’s three daughters, Jennifer, 29, Amanda, 20, and Michelle, 18, have also played the sport since they were old enough to skate.
In a neat twist, Poole has played on the recreational team with her mother for many years now, and 10 years ago they were joined by her eldest daughter, Jennifer. Last season, Amanda also joined the team and Poole is hoping to have Michelle in the ranks this coming season as well, her first year of eligibility.
“It’s really unique to play with your kids. We’ve got a really good relationship and don’t have to speak on the ice, we know where each other will be,” said Poole.
“I was involved in coaching all three of them so with them knowing how I think and coach we just know where to be.”
To say the sport has changed since she first signed up as a precocious 13-year-old would be an understatement. From broom handles to basketball knee pads, the equipment was a little less refined than it is today. There were no facemasks or teeth protection in those days, either, and often players had to wear a pair of ski gloves to protect their hands.
Eventually they started ditching the broom handles and began using old hockey sticks with the blades sawed off, still a far cry from the composite and aluminum ringette sticks available today.
“I still like wooden sticks, though,” smiled Poole. “Good, old-fashioned wood.”